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The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings 


Edited by Frangois Matheron 
Translated by G.M. Goshgarian 

The Humanist Controversy 

and Other Writings 



Edited by 

Francois Matheron 

Translated and with an Introduction by 

G.M. Goshgarian 



London ♦ Mew York 

This book is supported by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs 

as part of the Burgess Programme, headed for the French Embassy 

in London by the Institut Francais du Royaume Uni 




First published by Verso 2003 

This edition © Verso 2003 

Translation © G.M. Goshgarian 

First published in tcrits philosophises et politiques. Tome II and 

£crit$ sur la psydwnalyse © Editions Stock/IMEC 1993 and 1995 

All rights reserved 

The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted 

13579 10 8642 


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USA: 180 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014-4606 

Verso is the imprint of New Left Books 

ISBN 1-85984-507-X 
ISBN 1-85984-408-1 (pbk) 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

Althusser, Louis 
The humanist controversy and other writings (1966-67) 
1. Philosophy, French - 20th century 2. Philosophy, Marxist 
3. Psychoanalysis and philosophy 
I. Title II. Matheron, Francios III. Goshgarian, G. M. 

ISBN 1859844081 PB 
ISBN 185984507X HB 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress 

Typeset in 10/12 Palatino by SetSystems Ltd, Saffron Walden, Essex 
Printed and bound in Great Britain by the Bath Press Ltd, Avon 


List of Abbreviations vii 

Introduction xi 
GM. Goshgarian 

The Philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist 

Theoretical Research 1 

On Levi-Strauss 19 

Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses 33 

On Feuerbach 85 

The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy 155 

The Humanist Controversy 221 

Index 307 

List of Abbreviations 

Books or book-length manuscripts by Althusser 

EI - Essays in Ideology, trans. Ben Brewster et ah, London, 
Verso, 1984. 

EPP - Merits philosophiques et politiques, 2 vols, Paris, Stock/ 
Imec, 1994-95. 

ESC - Essays in Self-Criticism, trans. Grahame Lock, London, 
Verso, 1976. 

FM = For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster, London, Verso, 1996. 

LF = Lettres d Franca, Paris, Stock/Imec, 1998. 

LP = Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brew- 
ster, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1971. 

MRM = Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx: Politics and History, 
trans. Ben Brewster, London, Verso, 1972. 

PSH = Psychanalyse et sciences humaines: Deux conferences, ed. 
Oliver Corpet and Francois Matheron, Paris, Librarie G6n£rale 
Frangaise/Imec, 1996. 

PSPS = Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scien- 
hsts and Other Essays, ed. Gregory Elliott, trans. Ben Brewster 
et al, London, Verso, 1990. 

RC = Reading Capital, trans. Ben Brewster, London, Verso, 


SH = The Spectre of Hegel: Early Writings, trans. G.M. Goshgar^ 
ian, London, Verso, 1997. 

S1SS = Socialisme idtologique et socialisme scientifique, Alt2.A& 
02.01 to Alt2.A8-02.04 (part of TP). j 

SM = Solitude de Machiavel, ed. Yves Sintomer, Paris, PUF/ 
Actuel Marx Confrontations, 1998. 

TP = Mss. on the union of theory and practice, Alt2.A7-01 to 

WP = Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan, trans. Jef- 
frey Mehlman, New York, Columbia University Press, 1996. 

Note: The manuscript of 'The Historical Task' and other 
Althusser manuscripts referred to in the text are housed at 
the Institut M6moires de 1' Edition contemporaine, Paris. 

All the texts consulted in Althusser's archives are desig- 
nated with a string that begins 'Alt2.A' 7 omitted in the notes. 

Shorter texts by Althusser 

'ACP' = Alienation et culte de la personnalite, Alt2.A3-04. 
'ESC' = 'Elements of Self-Criticism', ESC 101-50. 

TSMP' = Ts it Simple to be a Marxist in Philosophy?', PSPS 


'LP = 'Lenin and Philosophy', PSPS 167-202. 

'MHMD' = 'Materialisme historique et mat£rialisme dialec- 
tique', Cahiers marxistes-leninistes, no. 11, April 1966, 
pp. 88-122. 

'MPH' = 'Montesquieu: Politics and History', MRM 10-109. 

'MRH' = 'Marx's Relation to Hegel', MRM 161-86. 

'NCA' = 'Note critique et autocritique pour le lecteur de Pour 
Marx et Lire le Capital 16 oct. 1967', Alt.2.A9-05.07 and 

'NSP' = 'Notes sur la Philosophie', EPP II, 299-348. 


vM' = 'On the Evolution of the Young Marx', ESC 

tW - 'On Theoretical Work: Difficulties and Resources', 

PSPS 43-67. 
RVV > = 'Philosophy as a Revoutionary Weapon', LP 11-22. 

<P<zu' = 'Philosophic et sciences humaines', SM 43-58. 

'PSPS' = 'Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the 
Scientists', PSPS 69-166. 

'R' = 'Rectification', Alt2.A9-05.01 to Alt2.A9-05.05 and 

'RSC = 'Rousseau: The Social Contract', MRM 111-60. 

'RTJL' = 'Reply to John Lewis', EI 61-140. 

'SRC = 'Sur la revolution culturelle', Cahiers marxistes-lfrti- 
nistes, no. 14, November-December 1966, pp, 5-16. 

TPh' = 'The Transformation of Philosophy', PSPS 241-65. 

'TTPTF' = 'Theory, Theoretical Practice and Theoretical For- 
mation: Ideology and Ideological Struggle', PSPS 1-42. 

Where the author of a text is not named in the notes, it is 
always Althusser. 

Other texts 

^rc = Archives of Francis Cohen, Bibliothdque marxiste, 

AWR = Archives of Waldeck Rochet in the Archives of the 
French Communist Party, Paris. 

Annates = Annates de la Societi des amis de Louis Aragon et Elsa 
Triolet, no. 2 (2000): Aragon et le Comity central d'Argenteuil. 

Uioisy = Transcript of an assembly of Communist philoso- 
phers held at Choisy-le-Roi on 22-23 January 1966. 

C-W = Marx/Engels, Collected Works, London, Lawrence & 
w ishart, 1970-2002. 


EC = Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, tr« 
George Eliot [Great Books in Philosophy], Amherst NY, 1989, 

FB = Ludwig Feuerbach, The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings <A 
Ludwig Feuerbach, ed. and trans. Zawar Hanfi, Garden City] 
NY, 1972. 1 

GI = Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, in The German 
Ideology, Theses on Feurbach, and The Introduction to the Critiqui 
of Political Economy, trans, anon. [Great Books in Philosophy]; 
Amherst, NY, 1998. 

Secretariat = Archives of the PCF Secretariat, Archives of the 
PCF, Paris. 


G.M Goshgarian 


Louis Althusser wrote the studies collected in the present vol- 
ume between June 1966 and July 1967. Except for the ten 
pages of 'The Humanist Controversy' incorporated into 
'Marx's Relation to Hegel' in 1968, and a version of 'The 
Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy' published in Hungar- 
ian the same year, all were stranded in his archives until after 
his death in 1990. 1 Of the completed texts of any importance 
that their author did release in this fourteen-month span, only 
an anonymous paean to the Chinese Cultural Revolution 
dates from it; the others are light revisions of earlier work. 2 
As for Althusser's most substantial manuscript of the day, a 
'vast, shapeless mass' of writing on the union of theory and 
practice (here called Theory and Practice) that had swelled into 
'matter for two or three books' by mid-1966, all but two chap- 
ters were abandoned to the gnawing criticism of the mice, 
together with some dozen shorter pieces and the materials 
assembled below. 3 While many of the unpublished writings 
did enjoy, in the form of lectures or circulating papers, what 
has aptly been termed 'semi-public status', 4 this hardly alters 
the general picture, dominated by the contrast between the 
nc h production of 1966-67 and the smattering that made its 
w ay into print. 

Yet Althusser was persuaded, after the autumn 1965 publi- 
cation of For Marx and Reading Capital had catapulted him 


from respectable academic obscurity at Paris's ficole normal^ 
sup£rieure to the centre of French intellectual life, and from 
nearly twenty years on the fringes of the Communist Party t 
his moment of glory as one of its 'three great men 7 , 5 that th 
'theoretico-political' situation urgently required a statement 
from his camp. 'Between now and February-March-April', 
he wrote to his lover Franca Madonia in August 1966, 'it is 
impossible that nothing appear, given what we've already writ- 
ten, the way some people are reading it . and the ambigui- 
ties and omissions in our publications/ The 'ambiguities' had 
bred an alarming perception of his work as 'a counter-signa- 
ture of the structuralist claim', although he had been decrying 
structuralism, 'idealism's last hope', as a philosophical fraud 
since his 1962-63 seminar on the subject. 6 In the spring, the 
Party's General Secretary had joined the chorus of those 
bewailing his 'omission' of the problem of the union of theory 
and practice, although Althusser had 'anticipated the possi- 
bility . even necessity of a materialist definition' of it, doing 
no more only because one could not do everything at once. 
Marxist Tlteory and the Communists would fill in the blanks 
that autumn, he assured other Party intellectuals at a 
'Homeric' dinner-debate on May Day. 7 The ambiguities would 
be laid to rest in a long-planned Althusserian review (later 
baptized Theorie, but never born); the first issue, it was 
decided over the summer, would focus on the difference 
between structuralist and Marxist conceptions of structure. 8 

These concessions aside, Althusser initially stood by the 
positions staked out in For Marx and Reading Capital. They 
were commanded by the thesis, adapted from Gaston Bache- 
lard, that the major sciences had emerged from revolutionary 
'epistemological breaks' with the practically motivated sys- 
tems of thought that their emergence retrospectively identified 
as ideologies. Marxism had originated in one such 'theoretical 
revolution', which transformed the raw material of its three 
sources - German idealism, French Utopian socialism, English 
political economy - into a pair of new sciences, historical and 
dialectical materialism. The object of the first was the history 
of social formations, a realm opened up to scientific analysis 
by 'Marx's fundamental discovery', 'the topography' of dis- 
tinct practices combined in distinct ways in distinct modes of 


ton Dialectical materialism, or Marxist philosophy, 

^ f ° rtie Theory of theoretical practice; it studied 'the relation 

WaS en theoretical practice and the other practices, and there- 

* simultaneously, the specific nature of the other practices 

' ^ t ^ e types of determination linking them'. 9 Like the 

ience of history, then, philosophy, too, took all the practices 

d their relations as its object, but 'only in so far as they 
articipated in the production of knowledge as knowledge'. 
Its main task was to construct, using means of analysis analo- 
gous to those that historical materialism brought to bear on 
social modes of production, the science of the modes of pro- 
duction of theory. 

It followed that dialectical materialism was engendered by 
historical materialism, which practised a break with ideology 
whose history and results philosophy had to theorize. This 
exemplified the law that a nascent philosophy necessarily lags 
behind the science that calls it into being, the Althusserian 
variation on the theme that the owl of Minerva takes wing at 
dusk. Yet a science depended for its continued existence on 
the philosophical 'guide' that depended on it. Unless it was 
armed by philosophy with the theory of its own theoretical 
practice, any science, although its discoveries were irreversi- 
ble, had to fear the 'constantly recurring ideological tempta- 
tions' that could always reverse it, drawing it back within the 
embrace of the ideology from which it had torn itself. The 
danger was acute in the case of historical materialism, given 
its novelty and the obvious reasons for the hostility to it. Dia- 
lectical materialism's lag behind its sister science therefore 
implied a politics: philosophy's task was to save Marx's theo- 
retical revolution by finishing it. But to save the theoretical 
revolution was to save the revolution tout court without rev- 
olutionary theory, as Althusser never tired of repeating after 
Lenin, there could be no revolutionary practice. 10 

B Y summer 1966, Althusser had admitted that his critics 
were right in one crucial respect: the logic of the break iso- 
lated the theory required to make the revolution from the 
realm of the non-theoretical practices in which the revolution 
ad (also) to be made. Theory became theory by virtue of a 
^istantiation that ruled out both its internal determination by 
eology and its direct intervention in ideology: a theory, by 


definition, had no practical relation to the ideological practices 
with which it broke. This put philosophy, "the highest form of 
the theorization of ideology', 11 at a double remove from all 
other practices. It had no practical relation to ideology, one of 
its objects; nor did it have, as the science of the 'relation 
between [theoretical] practice and the other practices', any 
practical relation to that relation - which, since philosophy, 
too, was a theoretical practice, included its own relation to 
itself. Althusser's philosophy thus found itself at odds with 
two basic contentions of the science on which it claimed to be 
based: that theory was co-determined - indeed, primarily 
determined - by its non-theoretical outside, specifically by the 
ideologies, where 'the class struggle figures in person'; J2 and 
that the vocation of revolutionary theory was to intervene in 
the ideological class struggle. What Althusser had called 
'omissions' thus turned out to be symptoms of the fact that 
he could think the 'union of theory and practice', of theoreti- 
cal and non-theoretical practice, only as the impossible j 
encounter of two heterogeneous orders ('our union of the 1 
body and soul', he quipped in a letter) 13 or the tautological I 
consequence of their prior identification. ' 

He concluded, in retrospect, that he had proceeded by \ 
identifying them, 'posing the theoretical question in place of 
the political' and thus, if not quite calling theory politics, 
demoting politics to the rank of an 'extension of theory'. 14 
This 'theoreticism', a term he began applying to his work in 
mid-1966, sprang from an overreaction to the historicism that 
defined Marxism as an immediate expression of history, 
rather than an autonomous theory irreducible to it. Histori- 
cism led, as in Gramsci, to an identification of history and the 
Marxist 'philosophy of history'; it collapsed dialectical materi- 
alism into historical materialism and treated the result as the 
world-view of a class possessed of the Marxist science of 
itself. Thus, at least tendentially, it made Marxism a form of 
absolute knowledge, one which differed from Hegel's only in 
that it situated the union of history and the theory of history 
in the historical process rather than at its term. The crux of 
Althusser's self-criticism of 1966 was that he had finally only 
inverted this schema, absorbing history in theory rather than 
the reverse, to produce what was, tendentially, another Marx- 


fh orv of absolute knowledge. Witness his treatment of the 

lS Hon between philosophy and politics: the attempt to avoid 

^ Gramscian conclusion (which, if for different reasons, was 

l Stalin's) that 'the real philosopher is simply the politi- 

• n'l* had ended up standing it on its head. 'It is the bearers 

f theory', ran his ironic summary of the theoreticist tendency 

in his early work, 'who make history.' 1 * 

Althusser would, in 1966-67, mobilize Spinoza against his 
theoreticism, which, however, his appeal to Spinoza also 
reinforced. Against the conception of knowledge as a shad- 
owy reflection of a real lying outside it, For Marx and Reading 
Capital silently invoke the Spinozist principle that 'substance 
thinking and substance extended are one and the same sub- 
stance', insisting that ideas, no less than their real objects, are 
also the real, albeit in the form of thought. 17 But this material- 
ist defence of the materiality of both ideological and theo- 
retical practice came at a price, set by the quest for an 
equivalent of substance that runs through Althusser's work of 
the 1960s. In For Marx and Reading Capital, this equivalent is 
production, supposed to have a general structure common to 
all its forms, theoretical and non-theoretical alike; it exorcizes 
the spectre of the parallelism that might otherwise haunt 
attempts to contest, via the thesis that ideas are quite as real 
as their objects, the historicist empiricism for which theory is 
simply a reflection or an expression of its times. Philosophy is 
accordingly conceived as the 'science' that provides knowl- 
edge of this general structure, and, with it, of the unity-in- 
diversity of the whole of the real Even after Althusser begins 
to criticize his own theoreticism, he explicitly reaffirms this 
theory of philosophy on the basis of a (mis)reading of Spi- 
noza's Ethics summed up in the affirmation that 'the parallel- 
ism of the attributes is tempered and corrected in Spinoza by 
the concept of substance . . it is the concept of substance 
which plays the role of the concept of the articulation of the 
attributes' 'Our attributes', he adds, are the general scientific 
eories whose articulation it is philosophy's business to 
i,' on 'y ky doing so can it avoid the dilemma of the par- 
allelism of the attributes. 18 A year later, in mid-1967, Althus- 
was still contending that philosophy must concern itself 
the unity-in-diversity of all the theoretical and also the 


non-theoretical practices.^ It was above all by way of this, 
contention that his theoreticism continued to resist his ongo- 1 
ing break with it. 

The idea that the general structure of production is com- 
mon to 'substance thinking and substance extended' provides 
the point of departure for Althusser's first theoreticist 
approach to the relation between Theory and politics. Thus 
For Marx, borrowing its concept of the conjuncture ('current 
situation') from Lenin's political writings, affirms that 'the | 
essence of the object (the raw material) of political and theoreti- 
cal practice [is] the structure of the "current situation" (in the- 
ory or politics) to which these practices apply'. 20 Althusser 
doubtless considered this one of the places in which he had 
'anticipated the necessity of a materialist definition' of the 
problem of the union of theory and practice. Here it is clearly 
posed in terms of the 'parallelism of the conjunctures'; for we 
are dealing with two, political and theoretical. Or, rather, with 
three, since the 'raw material' of politics proper must be dis- 
tinguished from political theory, as a letter of Althusser's 
spells out: 'the science of the political is a different practice 
[than politics]; it is a theoretical practice by nature indepen- 
dent of its application in politics, i.e., of political practice'. 21 
On closer inspection, it turns out that there is yet another 
pole in this dual mirror structure: the theory of the political 
conjuncture is in its turn an element in the structure of the 
theoretical conjuncture, which has its own Theory. Yet the 
passage draws these distinctions only to efface them. For we 
have two conjunctures and two theories, but only one Theory. 

The reason is not that the essence of both conjunctures is a 
structure, but that the structure of both conjunctures is an 
essence, and that only Theory knows it. Theory is the science of 
this essence or general structure, to which political science, 
however inventive - and Althusser's aim here is precisely to 
stress the potential contribution of Lenin's political thought to 
philosophy - has access, like any other science, via Theory 
alone. The Theory of theoretical practice {dialectical material- 
ism) meets no corresponding limitation in the practice it theo- 
rizes: it is independent of its application in theory (historical 
materialism), which is in turn independent of its application 
in politics. Theory alone, to cite Althusser's 1976 self-criticism, 


fv the whole under its aegis and 'speak the Truth 

Can all human practices'. 22 Thus the same essay that assigns 

hilosophical and political 'attributes' their distinct con- 

fr res and theories but a common substance /essence 

' U kes, in advance, the problem it might seem to pose, 

S ° nelv affirming that dialectical materialism is 'the general 

Th rv j n w hich is theoretically expressed the essence of theo- 

tical practice in general, through it the essence of practice in 

eneral, and through it the essence of the transformations, of 

fhe "development" of things in general'. 23 

Althusser's critique of the epistemological essentialism that 
bred this species of speculative 'Spinozism' unfolds in the 
texts collected below, as well as Theory and Practice and a 
handful of others. It is carried out in the name of a defence 
of the singularity of Marxism that is only the most conspicu- 
ous figure of a Marxism of the singular whose presiding 
spirit in this period, is also Spinoza, read through a prism 
provided by Machiavelli, Marx, Lenin and Mao. It issues in a 
philosophy that proposes to account for itself as the always 
singular effect of a singular political 'conjuncture' on a singu- 
lar philosophical 'conjunction': a philosophy that takes its 
place within the field of what Althusser christens, in notes 
dating from summer 1966, the 'theory of the encounter'. 24 
What disappears from this new conception of philosophy is 
the notion, at the heart of the old, of the general as 'essence'. 
What takes its place is a theory of the singularity of 

The way to the philosophy of the encounter was paved by 
the argument, developed in Theory and Practice, that casting 
Theory as both philosophy and science inevitably made it a 
form of absolute knowledge. On the one hand, Althusser said, 
m sum, that the sciences and ideologies were the objects of 
the Theory of theory, which was therefore distinct from both. 
^ the other, because it was itself a science, it took its place 
among the objects it studied. It established the scientificity of 
ne other sciences, and thus their difference from ideology, on 

e basis of criteria laid down by their own historical practice, 
with reference to the kind of (ideological) a priori guaran- 

e s provided by classical epistemology. But by what criteria 
rt then distinguish itself, the scientific theory of scientific- 


ity, from the ideological theories of science - for instance, 
classical epistemology - that it set out to combat? These crite- 
ria could be provided only by its own theoretical practice, for j 
no other science studied scientificity as such. What counted as 
scientificity, however, could be determined only by these cri- 
teria. Theory accordingly intervened in a field encompassing 
Theory in order to define Theory by its intervention. It was ; 
thus the self-creating science of itself: the theoreticist equiva- 
lent of Gramsci's historicist absolute knowledge. 25 

The condition for elaborating an alternative to both con- 
sisted in situating philosophy in the conjuncture without ben- , 
efit of the transcendental guarantee provided by its 
extra-conjunctural double, scientific Theory. Althusser takes 
this step in the earliest of the texts below, the June 1966 lec- 
ture 'The Philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist Theoretical 
Research', when, in passing, he faults his earlier work for fail- 
ing to distinguish the 'theoretical status' of historical material- 
ism, which is a science, from that of philosophy, which is not. 
Attending to this distinction, he predicts, will generate 'a long 
string of related developments'. The most important is encap- 
sulated in a jotting that probably dates from the same sum- 
mer -'in the broad sense, every philosophy is practical or 
political: an Ethics'. 2 * The beginning of the break that sepa- 
rates the two halves of Althusser's philosophical career might 
well be dated to that note. 

What justified calling philosophy political? Althusser's, as 
he saw in retrospect, was political by its own involuntary 
confession, and in this it was typical. Its pretension to being 
the science of itself was the very symptom of what denied it 
scientific status: like any other philosophy, it forged its iden- 
tity in a struggle with its adversaries, participating in a war 
of ideas precisely by virtue of its claim to judge it from a 
position above the fray. Thus it was, as Althusser had said of 
ideology in a May revision of Theory and Practice, 'both judge 
and party to the action'. 27 This implied more than that materi- 
alist philosophy was immersed in the philosophical conjuncture; 
for, in that conjuncture, it contended with the philosophical 
'detachments' of the ideologies, in which the 'class struggle - 
and, with it, politics - 'figure in person' In a word, a very 
short road led from the demise of Theory to the birth of the 


that philosophy had an 'intimate, organic relationship 

•t! nolitics'. 28 I* * s s h° rt enough to awaken the suspicion 

WI having fi^ demoted politics to the rank of an extension 

t ' hilosophy in reaction to the distortions of historicism, 

Althusser contritely restored philosophy to its subaltern place 

extension of politics. His new definition of philosophy 

Id be, and has been, held up as evidence that he did: 

' hilosophy', he wrote early in 1968, 'represents the people's 

lass struggle in theory'. 29 But philosophy was saved from 
this 'politicism' by the fact that, even after it had ceased to be 
the scientific Theory of theory, it maintained a privileged 
relationship with the sciences: it represented the sciences in 
politics, Althusser said, while simultaneously representing pol- 
itics in the sciences. Thus it was itself an element in the 
'union', or, at least, articulation, of (scientific) theory with 
(political-ideological) practice. With this, Althusser had negoti- 
ated the turn initiated, not quite two years earlier, in 'The 
Philosophical Conjuncture' 

Few of his previous positions survived it intact. By Febru- 
ary 1968, philosophy was said to operate not with concepts, 
but with categories; to produce not verifiable truths, but the- 
ses; and, in the sense that it generated no cumulative body of 
knowledge, to have no real history. Its 'object 7 disappeared 
along with the idea that it had one: the unity of the 'two 
great systems' comprising the theoretical and non-theoretical 
practices - finally only another name for 'what is improperly 
called the totality of the real'™ - was no longer, under any 
name, a possible object of knowledge. Indeed, the sciences 
themselves no longer formed a totalizable whole: they could 
perfectly well subsist as isolated 'continents', islands in the 
void of the ideologies from which they emerged. Their his- 
tory, previously assigned to dialectical materialism as if the 
theory of theory transcended the study of concrete theoretical 
practices, was now put under the jurisdiction of the science of 
tor y- Even the 'law' according to which philosophies are 
precipitated by the appearance of new sciences was called 
into question: in November 1967, Althusser privately 

n uorsed the idea - although he retreated from it soon after, 

^d was not to defend it publicly until 1973 31 - that the birth 

^e science of history had been induced by the change in 


Marx's philosophical position which came about when he 
threw in his lot with the Parisian communists. This attested 
both the key role still attributed to philosophy, and the logical 
priority of what Althusser now thought under that name to 
the break between science and ideology, redefined as the 
beginning of an endless process, a 'continuing break' 'Politics 
in the broad sense' or 'in the last instance' had come to sig- 
nify something akin to the idea of the primacy of opposition, 
and thus to Derridean differance: no longer conceived as a 
product of the break, philosophy was, rather, the activity of 
the continuing break itself, a purely differential operation that 
consisted in drawing and redrawing a line within itself 
between the idealist/ideological tendencies that blocked the 
advance of science and the materialist tendencies that 
opposed them. It was, said Althusser, the 'repetition of a 
"nothing" ' 

Some of these theses are to be found in The Historical 
Task' and the nearly contemporaneous 'Humanist Contro- 
versy', alongside others incompatible with them. The rest 
crystallized with implausible rapidity in a 'theoretical aggior- 
namento' undertaken shortly after Althusser abandoned 'The 
Humanist Controversy' in July. The first fruits of the 'theoreti- 
cally rigorous summer' 32 of 1967 were harvested in his intro- 
duction to an autumn lecture course on the spontaneous 
philosophy of scientists as well as a celebrated February 1968 
lecture, 'Lenin and Philosophy'. 33 The same period yielded a 
long reassessment of his work which contained much of the 
matter, and even something of the manner, of the well-known 
self-critical texts that he released only in 1973-74; the guarded 
reconsiderations that began appearing in print in 1968 do not 
begin to capture the flavour and force of this still unpubli- 
shed 'rectification' (probably destined to appear in the journal 
Theorie).^ The kernel of it was the charge that Althusser's 
neglect of the union of theory and practice had been, not a 
sin of omission, but a 'stupendous mistake'. It was attested, 
added a related text, by the assumption that Theory could 
simply be 'applied' to the class struggle from outside it. 35 

Yet if the 'omissions' of May 1966 had become stupendous 
mistakes, the 'ambiguities' remained ambiguities: the sheer 
mass of structuralist terminology purged from the 1968 sec- 


dition of Reading Capital notwithstanding, 36 Althusser 
°? ded from first to last, and always in the same terms, a 
^ € unding not guilty to the charge of structuralism. The 
re , men t polemics against Claude L£vi-Strauss included in 
v present volume show that he protested his innocence in 
11 eood faith - the more so as his earlier judgements of 'the 
ost dangerous fellow around' are quite as one-sidedly hos- 
tile 37 Whether he was a structuralist none the less is a ques- 
tion that need not detain us. The relevance of his critique of 
structural anthropology to his own development lies else- 
where: in his 1966 discovery that the commitment to 'the pri- 
macy of unity' 38 which he took to be the chief manifestation 
of L£vi-Strauss's idealism also haunted his own. The mark of 
this complicity was, however, less his concept of structure 
than his Theory of theory, a bastion of the primacy of unity in 
a philosophy whose basic tendency was to affirm the primacy 
of opposition. Thus it is no accident that Althusser's settling 
of accounts with L£vi-Strauss, a central concern of three of the 
texts below, should have ushered in his turn of 1966-67: it 
was a critique of his own theoreticism avant la lettre. 

There was another: Althusser's 1959 discussion of Montes- 
quieu's 'mythical notion of the nature of the State', which was 
based on the premiss 'that a political power [could] be estab- 
lished and exercised outside classes and over them' Theoreti- 
cism was the philosophical equivalent, the mythical notion 
that Theory could establish and exercise its power outside 
(class) ideologies and over them; it was the native doctrine of 
what Althusser would later describe as the party of the state 
in philosophy. 'Every ideology is also a practice': Althusser's, 
practised on the terrain of the party of the state tout court, 
aimed to establish the power of Theory over politics by fusing 
the 'party of the theoretical' with the Party of Maurice Tho- 
rez. The ultimate objective was to bring 'the masses on to the 
historical stage, not only to make the revolution, but to 
remain there afterwards .. so that the dictatorship of the 
Proletariat would be the power of the masses'. But Althusser's 
h em P t to realize this objective ignored the masses; it took 
e torm of a campaign to convince the leadership of the 
ench Communist Party to let him create the conditions 
4 u ired to make its activists into (Althusserian) theoreti- 


cians. 39 The resulting organizational battle intensified from 
1963 on. It peaked, in mid-1966, in a resounding defeat for 
the partisans of Theory. It was in the conjuncture shaped by 
this defeat of Althusser's theoreticist practice that his anti- 
structuralism helped to precipitate the anti-theoreticist theory 
capable of accounting, among other things, for the encounter 
between philosophy and politics that spawned his 1966-67 

This would seem to warrant a departure from the practice of 
the now immortal, if otherwise unknown titular figure of 'Reply 
to John Lewis', whose unconcern for 'such concrete things as 
polities' has been diligently emulated by most of Althusser's 
other critics, and unabashedly endorsed by the last to date. 40 It is, 
at any rate, more in keeping with the spirit of Althusser's enter- 
prise to consider his 'theoretical qualities' as they appear, not 
when 'detached from the political debates of his day', 41 but, 
rather, when firmly reattached to them. We shall therefore say a 
word about Theory's long march through the French Communist 
Party before sketching the beginnings of Althusser's break with 
the party of the state in philosophy. 


Stalinism with a humanist face 

'In real history,' For Marx affirms, 'determination in the last 
instance by the economy is exercised precisely in the permuta- 
tions of the principal role between the economy, politics, theory, 
etc/ The last example is not on the list by accident. For Althusser, 
who - like his Machiavelli, thought in extremes - the 'note- 
worthy interest shown in Marx's Early Works by young 
Soviet scholars', as he diplomatically stated the matter in For 
Marx - that is, the 'pitiful ideological rumination of the works of 
Marx's youth' - was 'an important sign of the present direction 
of cultural development in the USSR' - that is, the symptom of a 
'catastrophic' revision of Marxism that implied nothing less than 
the imminent collapse of socialism. 42 Such revisionism repre- 
sented, at the level of theory, the alarming progress of the 
offensive against the socialist camp. But it was more than just an 


of the inauspicious course of the global class struggle; the 
U1 i to overturn the revolution in society was proceeding by 
k f a reversal of the Marxist theoretical revolution being 
lVQ ^ • d out on the authority of the early Marx. Under these 
03 d'tions, interpreting the world was the fastest way to chang- 
C ° t Indeed, interpreting Marx was: in the post-Stalin era, the 
' mieele for a correct conception of Marxist theory' would 
decide 'the fate of the socialist revolution itself. 

The seeds of the disaster that theory had to avert had been 
sown by Lenin's direct heirs. Their failure to finish the revolution 
bv carrying it into the ideological realm had 'ensur[ed] the 
survival, that is, the reactivation, of older elements' in the super- 
structures of Soviet society, while blocking the development of 
Marxist thought needed to transform them. Stalin's 'crimes and 
repression 7 were one consequence of the marriage between the 
revolution and the barbarism that had survived it; the dogmatic 
sleep he had imposed on Marxism was another. Thus Stalin had 
'snuffed out not only thousands upon thousands of lives, but 
also, for a long time if not for ever, the theoretical existence of a 
whole series of major problems', eliminating 'from the field of 
Marxist research and discovery questions that fell by rights to 
the province of Marxism'. After 1956, bourgeois ideologies rushed 
to fill the resulting theoretical vacuum; reactivating 'old petty- 
bourgeois reflexes', they sowed the illusion that protest couched 
in terms of 'alienation, freedom, or man' could produce social 
change. This was the 'ultimate posthumous effect of the dogma- 
tism' of the Stalin period: the moral-liberal 'diversions' that took 
the place vacated by Marxist analysis, beginning with Khru- 
shchev's denunciations of 'violations of socialist legality' and 'the 
personality cult', reinforced a depoliticization that shored up the 
foundations of the social system they were supposed to help 
reform. Truly to put Stalin's legacy behind it, the post-Stalin 
<-PSU would have to resume active leadership of the class 
struggle, at home and abroad. But its Twenty-Second Congress 
preferred to declare the USSR a 'state of the whole people', while 
s Pousing the ostensibly Marxist humanist ideology ('everything 
j? the nan *e of man') that stifled class-based political initiative in 
c * USSR itself, and, at the international level, justified class 
.oration. * n both respects, the Stalinist regime that had never 
ously come forward in humanist garb, according to the 


Althusser of the 1960s, was perpetuated by the Khrushchev^ 
regime that did. 45 What was emerging after Stalin was less ai\ 
alternative to Stalinism than Stalinism with a humanist face. 

Theory's historical task was therefore to overcome the poverty 
to which Stalin had condemned it, while combating the ideology 
with which Khrushchev was replacing it. Instead, what passed 
for Marxist theory, East and West, was colluding with what it 
should have been countering. Its celebration of a Feuerbachian- 
Hegelian Marx revived the twin ideological problematics with 
which Marx's revolution in thought had broken: the economise 
('the poor man's' Hegelianism) which assumed that the 'autodev- 
elopment' of the economy would by itself bring indefinite pro- 
gress in every other social sphere, and thus implied, tendentially, 
the outright suppression of political practice; and economism's 
'theoretical complement', the humanism which, putting a ghost 
in the economic machine, cast it as the motor of the continuous 
self-realization of a universal 'human spirit', thus tending to the 
same end, 'negation or attenuation' of class struggle. But these 
were bourgeois ideologies. What loomed on the post-Stalinist 
horizon was, accordingly, capitalism: 'the revolution in society, 
like the revolution in thought, runs a very great risk: that of being 
smothered by the old world, and, directly or indirectly, falling 
back under its sway' 44 

This was why it was crucial to develop dialectical materialism, 
which alone could draw the line between theory and the human- 
ist/evolutionist ideology threatening to engulf both Marxism and 
socialism. But only the Party could lead the fight to translate 
theory into revolutionary practice; that was why it was crucial to 
win it over to revolutionary positions by importing Marxist 
science into it, at the price of an organizational battle against the 
foes of theory squatting in its ranks. At mid-decade, Althusser 
found himself in the thick of this battle. 

The profound noxiousness of Althusser' s ideas 

Since the late 1950s, the PCF had been lumbering towards a de- 
Stalinization that lent some semblance of plausibility to efforts to 
hoist it back on to the rails of a class-based revolutionary social- 
ism. There were two main reasons for its new-found desire for 
change. One was that its deep-seated loyalty to Moscow had 


the better of its faith in Stalin: by late 1961, the Party 
finally g ^ aC j en dorsed the Khrushchev reforms and begun 
leaders p pting them. The second was a revival of its elec- 
^^r^traditions: in 1962, still smarting from a 1958 setback that 
toralis re duced its usual quarter of the postwar vote, the 

^ a s t ff in pursuit of an alliance and a common programme 
• h the socialists, confident that it could dominate a left coalition 
W1 rnment after a victory at the polls. The need to win over 
g °cialist and Catholic voters, especially from the then burgeoning 
5 °hite-collar strata, was thought to mandate both doctrinal and 
organizational change. It would be necessary, in particular, to 
stress the commonalities between Marxist and progressive non- 
Marxist thought, advocate a peaceful, gradual, parliamentary 
transition to socialism, and lift, wherever possible, the bureau- 
cratic constraints still imposed on Communist thinkers and 


The policy of the outstretched hand, as the bid for socialist 
and Catholic support was called, found its spontaneous transla- 
tion in the language of humanism and evolutionism. 'Unity of 
action with Catholic workers/ said one of its leading Communist 
partisans, Gilbert Mury, 'is a necessary moment in our march 
towards, first, democracy, and then socialism; it naturally means 
that Christian humanism is not wholly alien to us the unity 
of history is that of a [humanist] project that runs through it, 
and if Marxism is not the application of this project in the age of 
the rise of the working class, what is it?' 45 The PCFs advances in 
the mid-1960s plugged the gaps in this logic. The Party registered 
solid gains in legislative and local elections in 1962-64, saw its 
membership figures swell, and, most importantly, negotiated its 
support, albeit without a common programme, for Francois Mit- 
terrand's bid to unseat de Gaulle in the 1965 presidential elections, 
m w Wch the socialist candidate polled a promising third of the 
o es in the first round. These successes came in a climate warmed 
y Vatican II, a papal call to ban the bomb, and intensifying 
d |alogue between the PCF and a Church that had, in the not-too- 
a nt past, excommunicated Party members and put Commu- 
i .. Plications on the index. French Communism's 'official 
lat ° So P^ er ' ^e Marxist-humanist Roger Garaudy (who would 
th ru ss * at ^ e h a d wanted to widen 'the spiritual opening 
ftnst could bring to Marxism' in order to 'hasten the advent 


of man'), eagerly exploited the new philosophical opportunity 
jointly afforded him by Khrushchev and the Pope. His Feuerba* 
cho-Marxian 'creed of the whole man', whose first article of faitk 
was that the aim of proletarian revolution was to overcoi^ 
alienation so that man, Marxism's alpha and omega, could return 
to himself and live a universal life as the true subject of his 
history, 46 seemed, to many Communists, admirably suited to 
ensuring both that the Christian-Marxist dialogue would deepen 
and that the Communist-Socialist alliance would eventually 
reach the end of the parliamentary road to socialism. 

In the face of these massively practical arguments for Marxist 
humanism, Althusser's hair-splitting 'gobbledygook' (to cite the 
Party's literary eminence Louis Aragon) about the early Marx's 
relation to Feuerbach and Hegel carried little weight indeed. As 
for his 'revolutioneering' (Aragon again) to the effect that, say, 
'the fight for peace implied anti-imperialist struggle', not 'peace- 
ful coexistence and ecumenism', it could be dismissed out of 
hand for making it 'virtually impossible' to apply a Party line 
calculated to garner the magic 51 per cent of the vote. 47 Moreover, 
the revolutioneering had, off the record, acquired a conspicuous 
'Chinese' tinge that was highly suspect in a Party which had, 
from early on in the Sino-Soviet split, outdone Moscow in exco- 
riating Beijing's 'sectarianism'. If not in 1963, when he had gone 
on 'theoretical trial' for, in sum, hiding his true (Maoist) aspira- 
tions from the Party, then certainly by mid-decade, Althusser 
richly deserved the '"Chinese" albatross 7 that his judges had 
hung around his neck, 48 and the PCF's leaders could no doubt 
prove it. Thus they had solid reasons to turn a deaf ear to his 
'theoretical anti-humanism"; and, despite his claims to the con- 
trary, there is scant evidence that it cost them a struggle to do it 
'There is no question but that', the Party's Secretary General 
Waldeck Rochet noted in his voluminous philosophical papers 
under the rubric 'Althusser's theories', 'we mean to fight for the 
most consistent humanism possible/ All indications are that he 
spoke for the vast majority of his peers. 49 Yet, in 1965, the Party's 
real decision-making body, the Political Bureau, chose to fan the 
flames of the humanist controversy, promoting a major inner- 
Party debate around Althusser's claim that Marxist humanism 
was a contradiction in terms. 

If everything militated against giving this claim a fair hearing 


tv everything militated in favour of pretending to. To 

^ *^ e th the excitement generated by Althusser's work had 

^ e ^ \a rxism new respectability in the University, where it had 

£ iveI Y n a poor cousin; by launching its own discussion of 
i^nff been r . «_...__ i j • •. . •<• _ 


long ^~ an ti-humanism f the Party could improve its position 

demia, while raising its standing in the eyes of 'the many 

? 3 munist teachers and college professors, along with a fringe 

• tellectuals around them', over whom he had 'real authority' 
an inner-Party affidavit in his defence put it). 50 Second, the 

arrel about humanism flared up at a time when the Political 
Bureau had resolved to discipline its unruly student union, the 
Union des etudiants communistes, which included an influential 
proto-Maoist grouping (the 'Chinese') whose leaders were polit- 
ically/ and in some cases personally, close to Althusser. Moving 
his anti-humanism stage centre might - and eventually did - 
disarm the UEC's young Althusserians, making it more likely 
that they would countenance manoeuvres designed to neutralize 
their rivals in the organization, the Trotskyists and 'Italians' (so 
called because they sought their political models among the 
reformist currents of the Italian CP). Third, and most important, 
Althusser and his humanist antagonists in the Party could be 
played off against one another; in the prevailing political con- 
juncture, this proved an opportune means of both implementing 
and limiting the de-Stalinization on the PCFs agenda. 

Key to this strategy was the fact that Stalinism wore a humanist 
face in Paris as well as in Moscow. The point is almost too 
conveniently demonstrated by the political career of Mury, who, 
in November 1966, nine months after making the ringing profes- 
sion of humanist faith quoted a moment ago, left the PCF for a 
Maoist group out of the sort of 'deep, tragic attachment to the 
work of Stalin' 51 that had, by the early 1960s, disappeared from 
e Party's discourse, but still flourished in its methods of quelling 
jssent. These methods were also Garaudy's, Althusser had 
j^nted in a 1963 review of the Marxist-humanist Bible, the 18U 
^scripts: it was not surprising that the humanists who con- 
u the young Marx's un-Marxist philosophy with his com- 
st politics should regard theory as a pliant tool for realizing 

'wh P i° lltical tasks of * e hour ' given that their attachment to a 
Su i e historical past' encouraged them in their ways. As if to 

a nhate the charge, Garaudy promptly shot back, in an organ 


of man'), eagerly exploited the new philosophical opportxiniy 
jointly afforded him by Khrushchev and the Pope. His Feuerb 
cho-Marxian 'creed of the whole man', whose first article of fou 
was that the aim of proletarian revolution was to overcom^ 
alienation so that man, Marxism's alpha and omega, could retiw 
to himself and live a universal life as the true subject of ^ 
history/ 6 seemed, to many Communists, admirably suited to 
ensuring both that the Christian-Marxist dialogue would deepen 
and that the Communist-Socialist alliance would eventual^ 
reach the end of the parliamentary road to socialism. 

In the face of these massively practical arguments for Marxist 
humanism, Althusser's hair-splitting 'gobbledygook' (to cite the 
Party's literary eminence Louis Aragon) about the early Marx's 
relation to Feuerbach and Hegel carried little weight indeed. As 
for his 'revolutioneering' (Aragon again) to the effect that, say, 
'the fight for peace implied anti-imperialist struggle', not 'peace- 
ful coexistence and ecumenism', it could be dismissed out of 
hand for making it 'virtually impossible' to apply a Party line 
calculated to garner the magic 51 per cent of the vote. 47 Moreover, 
the revolutioneering had, off the record, acquired a conspicuous 
'Chinese' tinge that was highly suspect in a Party which had, 
from early on in the Sino-Soviet split, outdone Moscow in exco- 
riating Beijing's 'sectarianism' If not in 1963, when he had gone 
on 'theoretical trial' for, in sum, hiding his true (Maoist) aspira- 
tions from the Party, then certainly by mid-decade, Althusser 
richly deserved the '"Chinese" albatross' that his judges had 
hung around his neck, 48 and the PCF's leaders could no doubt 
prove it. Thus they had solid reasons to turn a deaf ear to his 
'theoretical anti-humanism'; and, despite his claims to the con- 
trary, there is scant evidence that it cost them a struggle to do it. 
'There is no question but that', the Party's Secretary General 
Waldeck Rochet noted in his voluminous philosophical papers 
under the rubric 'Althusser's theories', 'we mean to fight for the 
most consistent humanism possible/ All indications are that he 
spoke for the vast majority of his peers. 49 Yet, in 1965, the Party's 
real decision-making body, the Political Bureau, chose to fan the 
flames of the humanist controversy, promoting a major inner' 
Party debate around Althusser's claim that Marxist humanism 
was a contradiction in terms. 

If everything militated against giving this claim a fair hearing 


ervthing militated in favour of pretending to. To 
^ the ^ aTt ^\u e excitement generated by Althusser's work had 
be gin with/ . neW respectability in the University, where it had 
given Ma rX1 ^ cousin; by launching its own discussion of 
long been ^j-humanism, the Party could improve its position 
theoretica ^^ e ra ising its standing in the eyes of 'the many 
in aca dern^ '^ cheTS and co ii ege professors, along with a fringe 
Comrnii ^ around them', over whom he had 'real authority' 
° f i!iner-Party affidavit in his defence put it). 50 Second, the 
^ S a 1 about humanism flared up at a time when the Political 
^ Ua u had resolved to discipline its unruly student union, the 
. des £tudiants communistes, which included an influential 
proto-Maoist grouping (the 'Chinese') whose leaders were polit- 
ically/ and in some cases personally, close to Althusser. Moving 
his anti-humanism stage centre might - and eventually did - 
disarm the UEC's young Althusserians, making it more likely 
that they would countenance manoeuvres designed to neutralize 
their rivals in the organization, the Trotskyists and 'Italians' (so 
called because they sought their political models among the 
reformist currents of the Italian CP). Third, and most important, 
Althusser and his humanist antagonists in the Party could be 
played off against one another; in the prevailing political con- 
juncture, this proved an opportune means of both implementing 
and limiting the de-Stalinization on the PCF's agenda. 

Key to this strategy was the fact that Stalinism wore a humanist 
face in Paris as well as in Moscow. The point is almost too 
conveniently demonstrated by the political career of Mury, who, 
m November 1966, nine months after making the ringing profes- 
sion of humanist faith quoted a moment ago, left the PCF for a 
Maoist group out of the sort of 'deep, tragic attachment to the 
^ork of Stalin' 31 that had, by the early 1960s, disappeared from 
e Par ty's discourse, but still flourished in its methods of quelling 
jssent These methods were also Garaudy's, Althusser had 
yed in a 1963 review of the Marxist-humanist Bible, the 1844 
^scripts: it was not surprising that the humanists who con- 
the young Marx's un-Marxist philosophy with his com- 

th 1St P°^ cs s bould regard theory as a pliant tool for realizing 

Vh i . Ca ' taS ^ s °^ * e hour, given that their attachment to a 

sub e . stor ^ ca ' P ast ' encouraged them in their ways. As if to 

a ntiate the charge, Garaudy promptly shot back, in an organ 


of the Political Bureau directed by none other than Garaudy (v^l 
was himself a member of the Political Bureau), that 'the coi^ 
quences [of Althusser's work] seem to me grave from both 
theoretical and a practical standpoint' Three years later, he Wju 
substantiating the same charge with a vengeance: 'all the co^ 
rades have recognized', he wrote to the head of the Party, 't^ 
profound noxiousness of Althusser's ideas, and even the fact that 
they have the character of an organized platform' 52 - that i$ 
constituted grounds for expulsion. 

Althusser's defence of the autonomy of theory was thus not a 
purely theoretical affair; it was also a call to break the Stalinist, 
humanist stranglehold on the Party's intellectual life. On a widely 
shared view, the garrotte was in the hands of the PCF's 'official 
philosopher', who used it to establish an 'intolerable, dangeroujj 
monopoly' redounding to the benefit of the Feuerbacho-Marxiatf 
religion of man. 53 By mid-decade, prevailing opinion in the PCF't 
upper echelons was - de-Stalinization oblige - that Garaudy 7 ! 
power had to be curbed; granting his anti-humanist adversaries 
a forum was the shortest way to curbing it. They had, however;? 
to be curbed in their turn: if one of the objectives was to bridle 
Garaudy's increasingly religiose enthusiasms, this must not be 
done in such a way as to give free rein to his adversaries' anti- 
humanism. Nor should the advocates of the autonomy of theory 
be encouraged to make a habit of contesting the Party line/ as 
Althusser all but openly had; the Political Bureau's monopoly on 
political discussion had to be restored with all deliberate speed. 
A relatively free debate between Garaudy's and Althusser's par- 
tisans, which the leadership could easily close off whenever it 
threatened to get out of hand, was the likeliest means of checking 
Garaudy at small risk to Marxist-humanist orthodoxy, while 
establishing freedom of expression with all the requisite reser- 
vations. The humanist controversy was, from the Political 
Bureau's standpoint, intended to serve these limited ends. As it 
turned out, it did. 

The debate proper began early in 1965. The year before/ 
Althusser had had difficulty publishing in the French Communist 
press. 54 It was a Party monthly for politics and culture, the 
Nouvelle critique (NC), which stepped in to redress the situation 
after the July 1964 death of long-time Party leader Maurice 
Thorez. Its editor, Jacques Arnault, accepted one of the texts 


h H been unable to place, 'Freud and Lacan'. He 
Aithusser December, before the ink was dry on Jorge 

followed P . ritec | a ttack on another, 'Marxism and Humanism', 
5ernp ru ^^ P.^ eC jitorial board to conduct a written debate on 

b>/ Veal anti-humanism. In March, the NC reprinted Semprun's 
th H° Althusser's essays, together with a rejoinder by Althusser 53 
ore neutral piece. The humanist controversy was on; it 
ild fill the pages of the NC for the next year 

Th re is n0 s P ace ^ ere to review the contributions to this 

bate which brought together diverse and diversely informed 
luations, more of them pro-Althusserian than not, of the idea 
that Marx's philosophical development had been marked by a 
break with humanism and Hegel. More important for present 
purposes is the fact that the debate took place at all, and Althus- 
ser's reactions to it. 

Allowing the controversy about humanism to go forward in 
the NC, the Party leadership was, as all involved understood, 
striking a blow for Althusser. For the NC was not neutral. It had 
taken up the cudgels for the autonomy of theory in a December 
1963 issue on the 'personality cult' that had earned it a rebuke 
from the Political Bureau instigated, in the opinion of its editorial 
board, by Roger Garaudy; and it continued to trespass on grounds 
reserved for those in positions of political responsibility', some 
of its editors going so far as to endorse the heresy, as one wrote 
in a memorandum sent to Rochet, that 'democratic centralism 
does not apply in the realm of theory' w Moreover, if the review 
was hardly 'animated by a sectarian current that defended 
Althusser'/ 7 it was no secret that there were close ties between 
nim and many of those associated with it. Some were former 
students of his from the early 1950s. One, a member of the Central 
Committee, had declared himself to be in basic political agree- 

ent with his former teacher in a theoretical correspondence 
be gun in 1964; another, a confidant since 1948, published the first 

a )or popularization of his work, submitting it to his scrutiny in 

u gust 1966.^ Aragon's condemnation/ after the fact, of 'the 

ectly unwarranted, scandalous scope' of the discussion in the 

'sv Gar audy y s charge that it was 'a muted version' of the 

phu tematic attack on the P olitics oi the Part y led b y the group of 

an OSo Phers influenced by Althusser', suggest how bitter resist- 
° the debate must have been when there was still hope of 


repairing 'the very bad mistake' the Political Bureau had ma^L 
in 'letting the NC's campaign against humanism go on (ev^ 
encouraging it)'. 5<3 

Garaudy was not wrong: at stake in this campaign was, in th* 
view of Althusser and many of his allies, the post-Stalinist reform 
ism for which humanism and a vulgar Hegelianism provide^ 
ideological cover. But if it was at stake, it was never in question 
The proof was that a Political Bureau whose unconcern for inner- 
Party democracy was matched only by its devotion to the grad- 
ualist, electoralist strategy that 'the most consistent humanism 
possible' underpinned did not hesitate to widen the scope of the 
humanist controversy, moving it beyond the venue of the NC to 
the far more prestigious arena of the Party's Central Committee. 
It did so in two stages, convening, in Choisy-le-Roi, a January 
1966 assembly of Communist philosophers conceived as a dress 
rehearsal for a Central Committee meeting on 'problems of ide- 
ology and culture' held in Argenteuil two months later. Althusser 
seized the chance to rally the PCF to the 'left-wing anti-Stalinist 
positions' 60 he had been defending for years. Everything suggests 
that he thought he could succeed, if only because his predictable 
failure to make the slightest dent in the Party's politics worked a 
revolution in his own. In the direct aftermath of Argenteuil, he 
began moving towards a rupture with French Communism 
which, in the event, begot a politically paralysing compromise 
with it - while prompting, in philosophy, his resignation from 
the party of theory. 

Although he was absent from Choisy-le-Roi because of illness/ 
and from Argenteuil because he was not a member of the Central 
Committee, Althusser had the starring role at both. The January 
assembly, held in the presence of the assembled Political Bureau, 
showed that he enjoyed far greater support among the Party's 
philosophers than he had thought: the Stalinist-humanist tirade 
that Garaudy delivered against him provoked unusually sharp 
replies in his defence, and even sharper critiques of his rival's 
methods of muzzling dissent. The hostilities engaged at Choisy 
were pursued in long volleys of mostly invidious letters for and 
against Althusser addressed to Party authorities; inside a coitv 
mittee appointed to draft the resolution of the forthcoming Cen* 
tral Committee meeting; and in a series of Byzantine manoeuvres 
and counter-manoeuvres which signalled, on balance, that & 


of constraints on free expression was in the offing, and 
re laxatio sona \ power on the wane. The climax, Argenteuil, 

Garau y F ^ ee ^ a y S f ora i jousting that was at once erudite 
cons* 5 htter t h a t the order was later given to purge the version 
S °d for public consumption of 'polemical passages of a 
1 nature'. 'Much of the debate', as Aragon maliciously 
P erS . j ' re volved around a proper name comrade Althus- 
rel ^ ' Yet the defence of his positions was restrained, in conform- 
Sef with what he later understood to be the meeting's general 

roose: to strike 'a blow to the left, a blow to the right' The 
Upshot was a resolution which roundly declared that 'there is a 
Marxist humanism', while self-contradictorily promising an end 
to bureaucratic interference in intellectual debate. 61 Thus Argen- 
teuil both closed the door to left-wing anti-Stalinism and limited 
the freedom needed to prise it back open: the resolution itself, 
intervening in the debate on humanism in violation of its own 
promise, was proof that the unrestricted liberties it granted in 
most spheres did not include that of questioning the Party line. 

The same message had been broadcast even more loudly well 
before Argenteuil, when the Party leadership seized on the NC's 
chronic insolvency to push through a restrictive 'modernization' 
of it. If it were carried out as planned, its editor-in-chief warned, 
'there would no longer be room' in the review for the equivalent 
of the debate about humanism. In the event, there no longer was. 
On the day Althusser delivered 'The Philosophical Conjuncture', 
Arnault's staff were giving him a farewell banquet. A note in his 
successor's archives sums up the limits on the de-Stalinization 
approved at Argenteuil: the new NC was to contain 'nothing 
opposed to the Party's political line (nor even anything differ- 
ent) « Althusser's reaction was to make it known that he would 
not be contributing anything to the 'new Nouvelle critique'^ 

Theoreticist practice 

ke an ^posted November 1963 letter, Althusser imagines the 

tri l /WltneSS at ^ e * nvest ig at ion that preceded his 'theoretical 
t P eni tently reciting an Althusserian lesson before his former 

iteetff The theoretical d ead-end' in which Marxist thought finds 
in^ i er ™ r ty years of Stalinist repression and dogmatism, his 
mt ^locutor admits, 



can become, under defined 'circumstances', in the sense in which y^. 
use this word in 'On the Materialist Dialectic', Louis mo^ 
important politically than the political contradiction itself (and ult^ 
mately, Louis, that is what you were thinking, deep down, when y^ 
told me that, in your view, 'today everything depends on Theory' 
which simply means that, in your view, Theory is today the 'decisive 
link' in the Leninist sense). 

A statement Althusser probably read at his trial leaves no 
doubt as to which branch of Theory he had in mind: "everything 
ultimately depends on Marxist Philosophy' Yet Althusser'a 
'everything depends on philosophy' did not spring from a faith 
in the 'critical omnipotence' of a theory that could 'become 
practical by dissipating the aberrations of History in the name of 
its truth'; he by no means believed that 'a general reform could 
be obtained by what might be called the Improvement of the 
Understanding' That had been the error of the Enlightenment or 
the neo-Hegelians, labouring under the crippling illusion, as For 
Marx notes, that 'everything depends on philosophy'. Emerging 
like them, 'from the world of reflection to transform the political 
world', but aware, as they had not been, that Theory's objective 
was not to convert 'History to History's truth', or even the Party 
to the Party's, Althusser set himself a properly political task: 
converting the Party to Theory's. 64 

This theoretical distinction made no practical difference. 
Althusserian philosophy's historical task was the transformation 
of ideology; to transform ideology, it had to reform the Party's 
understanding, translating philosophy into politics by tutoring 
the modern Prince. Concretely, this called for the development 
of two parallel programmes. The curriculum for one was set by 
Althusser' s writings and seminars. His and his co-authors' 'dif- 
ficult, austere' work, he confessed in 1967, was read mainly by 
intellectuals without 'organic (in the Gramscian sense) links to 
the workers' movement'. Yet, as he saw it in 1963, this by n° 
means precluded their sallying forth from the world of reflection 
to revolutionize the political world. Was he not training up a 
mass of theoreticians' in whom Theory would one day take flesh 
acquiring the 'historical existence' that neither Party nor class h^o 
yet succeeded in giving it?* 1 * What was more, matters w#* 
proceeding apace. In 1964, students of his had created a heavy/ 
attended School for Theoretical Formation in which the class^ 


erian Marxism stood high on the syllabus, and founded 
f Alth^ sS criers Marxistes-leninistes, that bore their mentor's 
a revie^ ^^ Ag for the faction of the UEC pi i otec | by the 

m ark on ^ ^^ ^ March 1965, climbed its way into the 

Aithuss f the organization on the backs of the revisionist 
leaders P^ ose ex j t it ^ a d helped to engineer a few months after 
'Italians , Khrushchev ' s f a u from grace. The 'young lions' of the 
* eir l orma le would now proceed, their professor exulted, to 
Eco e practical application' of his principles. This 'direct tran- 
ma from theory to politics' was 'wholly within the norms': no 
Sl 10 s were as powerful as those provided by 'a correct conception 

.' (^ 

The Party proper was a less receptive pupil. Not until the 
changing of the guard after Thorez's death did Althusser even 
risk broaching - in February 1965 - a plan for 'obtaining certain 
key modifications required for the indispensable work of theo- 
retico-political formation' in the PCF. Heartened by the response, 
he turned out, in three days, a forty-page memorandum combin- 
ing a simplified review of key points of Althusserian doctrine, a 
vigorous plea for freedom of research and expression, and 
instructions how to 'build theoretical activity into the practice of 
the Party itself'^ 7 He followed up with a primer that he submitted 
to French Communism's official theoretical journal. Entitled 'The- 
ory, Theoretical Practice and Theoretical Formation', it argued 
that 'it is theoretical formation that governs ideological 
struggle'. 1 * 

'Genuinely optimistic' when he initiated this bid to become 

^ guide of the future French Revolution, Althusser was jubilant 

b y April, convinced by recent developments that the union of 

Althusserian Theory and Communist practice was now squarely 

°n the historical agenda. 'Things were only just getting under 

a y in the UEC; the debate on humanism had commenced in 

e Pages of the Nouuelle critique, whose editors were living 'proof 

that people older' than his nornialiens could hold their own 

. ^ e f ront lines of the battle for theory'; lecturing once-mis- 

had k mrnun i s t colleagues on the teaching of philosophy, he 

itself* ' ervec * ^at h* s 'ideas were making their way' 'in the Party 

^ Very soon' the Althusserian 'ranks would be swelled' by 

them ' °^ new recru its; 'the union of generations' would give 

great force'. His work had 'triggered ... an irreversible 


movement much bigger than he was'; 'events continued to co^ 
firm all his certainties and predictions'. 69 

A year later, his enthusiasm was unabated. Was the inter* 
national response to For Marx and Reading Capital not proof th^ 
theory was indeed the decisive link in the present conjuncture 
as he had proclaimed four years earlier? Even the fact that his 
essay on theoretical formation was still 'sleeping in a drawer* 
months after he had expected it to appear in the PCF's theoretical 
review could not dampen his optimism. He had arranged to have 
part of it read out at the January assembly of Communist philos- 
ophers at Choisy, hopeful of convincing the members of the Party 
leadership in attendance of 'the importance of philosophy', and 
was now rewriting it into a book (Theory and Practice) destined, 
for reasons of 'theoretical polities', for the Party's publishing 
house. Although one had 'to keep in mind what the Party was', 
the reports on the proceedings at Choisy furnished by several of 
the editors of the NC were grounds for 'deep satisfaction', 
'Nothing would be as it had been before in the French Party/ 
Arnault had told him, after this 'historic event' All Althusser's 
correspondence of the day suggests that he believed it. 70 

In the immediate aftermath of Argenteuil, he quite unambig- 
uously changed his mind. Calculated public statements notwith- 
standing, he was conscious, from the first, that he had been dealt 
a major defeat. His reaction was one of 'indignation' over what 
'he and his team-mates unmistakably regarded as the triumph' 
of their philosophical antagonists. 71 The first public expression of 
his disenchantment came by way of his Maoist students, whose 
uneasy alliance with the UEC's Party orthodox had already 
foundered early in 1966. After a secret conclave with their tuto* 
on the eve of the UEC's 2-3 April Congress, they roared out their 
disapproval of the PCF's 'revisionism' in a ferocious broadside 
strikingly similar, in content if not in its 'Chinese' style, to W* 
own (probably unsent) letter to the Central Committee blasting 
the Argenteuil resolution in no uncertain terms. Althusser, toO/ 
vowed to 'go on the offensive', for there was 'no question ° l 
accepting the revisionist theoretical compromise contained in tn* 
resolution'; it would be necessary to 'co-ordinate the initiative^ 
of those opposed to it, and 'fight the battle to the bitter end • 
This was more than a reaction of the first hour. As surely as tfl 
course Althusser steered down to Argenteuil was that of someo* 1 


ted t0 redeem the Party, the course he struck after the 
vvho e*P w arc } 1 was that of someone who had consigned it to 


Objective anti-Stalinism 

*h conjuncture would have it, while the Althusserians in the 
tfC were grouping for their final battle with the PCF, Chinese 
dents defying the (Soviet) party of the state and shaking off 
Hie tutelage of even the Chinese Party and state, set about 
4 ealizing a Marxist thesis' advanced in 'Contradiction and Over- 
determination' In a revolution 'of and by the masses', they 
carried the class struggle into the relatively autonomous instance 
in which the CPSU had failed to 'liberate mass initiative', 'the 
ideological superstructure'. Althusser promptly concluded that 
the Chinese masses were practising the left-wing anti-Stalinism 
of which his Marxism offered the theory. But if they confirmed 
that theory in one sense, they exposed, in another, the ideology 
sapping it from within: China provided living refutation of the 
notion that it was the bearers of theory who made history. It was, 
plainly, the masses, making what was plainly an 'ideological 
revolution'; what was more, indications were that they were 
making it without benefit of any vanguard, that of the working 
class not excepted. 73 So, at all events, ran the Althusserian myth 
of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, anti-Stalinist 'not in words 
but in deeds'. 74 

Althusser elaborated this version of events under the dual 
impact of Argenteuil and the news arriving from Beijing, system- 
atizing it in the autumn 1966 essay on China which, had its 
author's identity been revealed, would have been sufficient pre- 

rv f ° r f xpellin S him iTOm ^ PCR Was he ' Uke the VECs 
ninese', courting expulsion? A tete-a-tete with Rochet that took 

P ace a week after his lecture on 'The Philosophical Conjuncture' 
Gar no doub * that the Political Bureau had opted for a form of 
emer J 1801 Without Gara udy. In Althusser's view, the Party that 
contr m * e k att ' e °f Argenteuil must have offered a sorry 

futur ' 75 Wl ^is y°ung lions, 'the embryo of a revolutionary 
the re I 1 * 181 * could be no question of helping the PCF to quash 

closest h ° n ' in Paris or Bei )' m & ta J ul Y' Althusser and his 
sociates agreed among themselves that they would not 


actively seek a break with the PCF, but would not 'publi c j v 
criticize the Chinese 7 either. 7 * 1 Around the same time, the UE(X 
rebels (already stigmatized as 'oppositional elements' by th e 
Party) held a cloak-and-dagger conclave to lay the groundwork 
for an independent organization. On one account, Althusser 
originally planned to attend; on another, fitienne Balibar, who 
did, read a message to the assembly on his behalf, to the effe^ 
that he disagreed with their tactics but approved their general 
political line. 77 By autumn, as the Party manoeuvred to torpedo 
the core Althusserian section of its student union while giving a 
wide berth to its prestigious helmsman, it seemed to Balibar 
writing from Alger after a summer in France, that the motives 
for 'abandoning ship' had become 'powerful'; they indicated that 
Althusser should bail out of the Party 'at the head of a crew' 
including 'the people in the UEC'. 78 If Althusser was not of the 
same mind, it is hard to see why he hailed the Cultural Revolution 
in the Cahiers Marxistes-leninistes, which had become the ensign 
of the 'Marxist-Leninist' vanguard organization launched by the 
Maoist rebels in December. 

His essay on China was more, in any case, than the fruit of a 
momentary enthusiasm; it crowned a shift in his assessment of 
the political situation amply attested by the metamorphosis that 
comes over his private correspondence in the wake of Argenteuil. 
The same friends and allies he had cheered, a few months earlier, 
with sanguine accounts of the swift gains Marxist Theory was 
making on impending disaster were now, and for a long time to 
come, assailed with prognostications as dark as those featured in 
the Chinese Communist Party's Pikin Information. 'Ninety-nine 
per cent of the economic bases of Soviet ideology', warns an 
August letter, lie 'outside the USSR', in which 'bourgeois ideology 
is spreading into so many areas that there is no counting them 
all.' Tt may well be that ours is a day in which the union of 
Marxist theory and the workers' movement is breaking up,' a left 
Catholic group heard Althusser say in May 1967; 'it is a highly 
precarious historical achievement that can literally be lost.' Even 
the occasional burst of optimism of the will came out sounding 
rather like a dirge: 'yes, socialism too can perish, as Marx knev^ 
we have to theorize the possibility of its death precisely so as to 
prevent it - nothing less' An August gloss on The Philosophic^' 
Conjuncture' points to the source of the threat without mincing 


'F llovving the Soviet CP, the French and Italian CPs are 
vV ° rC * S l pursuing reformist, revisionist policies; they are 
bjectiv y j a j_p emocra tic parties: they have ceased to be rev- 
becoming ^ ^ eir p resent s t a te, our parties are all but lost/ 
olutionary^^ ^ ^ often very dogmatic form', the Chinese 
That • ! m of them was 'basically . . . correct' And Beijing was right 
CritlC fmore than what was wrong with the Moscow-loyal Com- 
U t movement. The 'encounter' between the Althusserians' 
mu . anc j the pronouncements of the Chinese revolutionaries 
W oke volumes. Indeed, a good part of Althusser's future task 
uld consist in providing a 'theoretical foundation' for 'what 
^rtain Chinese theses affirm[ed]'. 79 

The stage was thus set for a collective exit from the PCF/UEC 
It would have to be, Balibar argued in November, 'unambiguous, 
well-explained, and public' In the event, it was, in Althusser's 
case, private, unexplained, and ambiguous in the extreme. It was, 
moreover, not an exit properly so called, but an inner emigration; 
and, far from being co-ordinated by Althusser and his collabor- 
ators on the one hand and Paris's junior Red Guards on the other, 
it materialized amid a series of manipulations designed by the 
rebels to push him into their camp by forcing his and his associ- 
ates' hand. These machinations backfired. Hospitalized for a 
depression in November, Althusser concluded in January, while 
still ill, that he and his collaborators 'had to stay in the Party for 
as long as possible in order to fulfil, for as long as possible ... the 
long-term theoretical function that the conjuncture had assigned' 
them - for they were 'currently irreplaceable'. He had, he added, 
been truly reckless' the year before; he had nearly 'squandered 
the theoretical credit' patiently amassed over the years. Letters 
sent to friends at the NC gently but firmly disowned the Althus- 
sero-Maoists and their new 'Marxist-Leninist' vanguard organ- 

\h^° n ' HiS whel P s ' had ' for lack of anything better, 'thrown 

emselves on his writings', bending them and everything else 

y could find to their own uses; unfortunately, they 'were 

Tfo tdy ° Ut ° f hiS controVHl) 

neith e aCt Was not an °P en break with French Communism, 
pl ans e ^ Was [t quite a return to the fold. In spring 1967, pursuing 
of j. lscus sed the previous June, Althusser welded a handful 
Politi l ° kers ln ^° a vaguely 'clandestine' philosophical- 
cal organization (the 'Groupe Spinoza') in which it would 


at last be possible to speak freely - behind closed doors. Tlw 
one of the group's founding documents, drawn up by Althuss^ 
uncompromisingly condemns the PCF's slide towards a 'petty! 
bourgeois, Social-Democratic socialism' associated with thg 
CPSU's 'right-opportunist, petty-bourgeois revisionism' and coiv 
trasted with Beijing's 'Marxist-Leninist positions' Yet the Groups 
Spinoza's political colour did not, in its founder's view, imply 
that members who also belonged to the Communist Party should 
turn in their cards; they could occupy the 'empty place' f 
Marxist-Leninist philosophy 'from outside the Party without 
necessarily quitting' its ranks. 81 It was a good retrospective defi. 
nition of what Althusser had, as Argenteuil must have taught 
him, been doing all along. 

How did the change in Althusser's politics affect his philos- 
ophy? In sum, it yielded the argument that politics shapes phil- 
osophy and, more generally, that, by way of philosophy, the 
ideological must continue to affect the theoretical even after the 
birth of Marxist science. For the Althusser of 1966-67, 'the ideo- 
logical' had come to mean, not primarily discourse, but the non- 
discursive practices - 'behaviours and practical attitudes', or 
moeurs - that are sometimes embodied, as well, in the 'systems 
of ideas' he called theoretical ideologies. To say that politics/ 
ideology shapes philosophy was therefore also to acknowledge 
the formative influence of non-theoretical on theoretical practice* 
But this was by no means to abandon the thesis that Marxist 
philosophy's task is to transform politics /ideology; Althusser's 
new argument was, rather, that philosophy's implication in the 
transformation of ideological practice transformed philosophy 
itself. His own philosophical evolution was a case in point 
Coming on the heels of his failure to advance the cause of left- 
wing Stalinism with the sole weapon of theory, had the Chinese 
struggle to do so by transforming 'ideological social relations 
not also sparked the transformation of Marxist philosophy inaug* 
urated with Althusserian Marxism's 1966-67 turn? Marx's 'phir 
osophical evolution', Althusser would soon conclude, 'was based 
on his political evolution'. 82 The political evolution that yielded 
this insight was Althusser's. 

Yet if, in Marx's case as well, nothing would have happen^ 
without the politics, without the philosophy, the politics wo# 
not have found its theoretical expression. Finding it was a matte* 


the external logic that led from Choisy-le-Roi to the 
f making za Qver jpf-Q th e internal logic that saw scientific 
Group 6 P beCome c iass struggle in theory. 83 It is to that inner 
P^l that we now turn. 

& that we now turn 


husser takes his distance from the party of the state in phil- 

hv in 'The Philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist Theoreti- 

° S | Research' with the remark, noted above, that he had been 

istaken in calling dialectical materialism a science. It is not 
elaborated. But 'there is a way of not talking about B when 
discussing only A', to cite a 1967 fragment, 'that takes account of 
B in one's discussion of A 7 , 84 Like everything Althusser wrote in 
1966-67, 'The Philosophical Conjuncture' provides an illus- 
tration: it takes account of Althusser's incipient break with the 
idealist tendencies in Althusserian Marxism in a critical discus- 
sion of the idealist philosophies dominating the philosophical 
conjuncture in France. Better: it effects that break, drawing a 
dividing line in Althusser's own work in the act of drawing up 
battle lines between it and that of his adversaries. Moreover, by 
way of its sketch of the philosophical conjuncture, it figures the 
results of the break it only begins to theorize: the idea that Lenin's 
conception of the 'current situation' in politics applies to philos- 
ophy as well finds, at the descriptive level, an astonishingly 
complete realization here. 

The germ of Althusser's lecture is contained in a 1963 letter 
detailing plans for a theoretical review. Letter and lecture envi- 
sion a broad philosophical alliance along lines cutting conspicu- 
y across the frontiers of what counted as Marxism: both range 

a en alism and its prospective non-Marxist allies - notably 

anguilhem, Lacan, Foucault and, 'somewhat later', Derrida - 
her dominant French philosophy' (phenomenology and 

briiT eneUtiCS ' Marxist or not ) and foe '"philosophical" ideologies' 
te chn ^ U ^ itS rear (k°th structuralism and, more generally, the 
196 3 r C H atlC * OU S ht with whi ch Althusser associated it). Between 
Alth u ^ 1966 ' h °wever, the terms of the alliance change. In 1963, 
°Phy r envisa 8 es rallying all the partisans of rational philos- 
mate rialists and idealists alike, to a broad 'party of the 


theoretical' After all, they have a common foe in ideology; g. 
is no pressing need 'to shoot down all idealist philosopher^ 
flames 7 . 85 That, however, is a fair statement of the aim of «!j 
lecture. Yet if Althusser now issues a polite declaration of War^ 
his allies within the party of the theoretical, he has no intents 
of dissolving the alliance: his objective is, rather, to open an 'a™ 
critical-idealist Front' in a complex war of position pitting m^ 
rialists and close confederates (for example, Derrida) agajjw 
others fighting alongside them in a subordinate struggle agai^ 
a reactionary French spiritualism. It is in this context that k 
allusively traces the corresponding lines of demarcation between 
theoreticism and materialism in his own work, and predicts the 
long string of developments to which it must lead. 

In a sense, the prophecy is fulfilled as soon as it is made, as 
even a cursory comparison of 'The Philosophical Conjunctly 
with the 1972 'Elements of Self-Criticism' suffices to show. From 
the idea that the history of philosophy is that of an endlessly 
renewed battle between its materialist and idealist tendencies, 
through the claim that, in this struggle, neither is realized in a 
pure form in any philosophy, to the affirmation that philosophy's 
divisions and subdivisions are 'fixed in a series of meeting-points', 
or a main 'front 7 and secondary 'fronts', the view that the task of 
Marxist philosophy is to wage a war of position on the idealist 
adversary it (in both senses) contains emerges in the practical 
state as soon as Althusser begins to question his theoreticism. 86 
To produce it, he had only to theorize his own theoretical practice* 

More exactly, he had to extend the theorization of it begun 
elsewhere. To For Marx's assertion that the diverse practices have 
in common the 'general essence of practice', Reading Capital adds 
- or objects - that 'there is no production in general, there is no 
history in general'. History, like production, can be thought only 
as singularity: as the 'always exceptional' situation of 'Contradic- 
tion and Overdetermination', whose necessity is that of its con- 
tingency, the structure of its conjuncture, a 'cause immanent in 
its effects 7 - all expressions of 'the principle', attributed to Ma°' 
that 'the universal only exists in the particular 7 ,* 7 Situating phil* 
osophy in the conjuncture, 'The Philosophical Conjuncture' effc^ 
tively affirms that this principle holds for philosophy too: the** 
is, its author might have said, no philosophy in general The tas* 
before Althusserian theory was thus that of thinking its ov^ 


. w ould have to bring itself under the sway of its 

' ant ^Y<ming its theory of a now fully historicized philos- 

0V vn ,aW ' h a !? theory of history, politics, or the social formation. 

°P hy Althusser would have to 'rectify 7 the early Althusser as 

iS ' h arlv Marx: via 'the application of his works to themselves 

he had more elaborated forms to their less elaborated forms 

■ theoretical system to certain terms of their discourse'. In 

this 'folding back' 88 was carried out incognito: in 

^ ra< fi~67 and beyond, Althusser took account of Althusser by 

* 96 ssin g L^vi-Strauss, Feuerbach, Lacan and Marx. 

I 'tially, he did so unawares. Although he devoted much of 
1966 to criticizing structuralism, it was hardly with the intention 
of settling accounts with his own theoreticism by proxy but, 
rather, in order to show, in an unambiguous attack on L£vi- 
Strauss, that the structuralist 'ambiguities' in his previous work 
were that and no more. The new onslaught on structuralism was 
to have been the opening battle in a campaign to concretize the 
anti-critical-idealist, anti-structuralist alliance proposed in 'The 
Philosophical Conjuncture' by creating a national network of 
'theoretical study groups' Althusser drew up fliers promoting 
these study groups in the autumn, but the project, overtaken by 
events, foundered soon after; it is unlikely even that the fliers 
were ever sent out. 

One of the motives for the renewal of Althusser's quarrel with 
structuralism, and the broader campaign it was meant to spear- 
head, was his long-standing desire to seal an alliance with Jacques 
Lacan. If only by offering 'the science of history' lessons on the 
non-teleological nature of historical process that Althusser had 
been shouting from the rooftops, Lacan's 1965-66 course on the 
° ject of psychoanalysis, the opening lecture in which had 
a PPeared in a review founded in January 1966 by students of his 
, A,t husser's, had fuelled visions of joint initiatives with the 
Alth sc hool. But the materialist strands in Lacan were, 

ori USSer * ou ght, interwoven with others of L6vi-Straussian 
Un ^ n that tie d him to a subjectivist, intentionalist notion of the 
note SC10US * After seeing Lacan in July, he said as much in a 
' theo Coverin g a copy of 'The Philosophical Conjuncture 7 ; Lacan's 
e *'eJ etlCal felations with L£vi-Strauss' could be, 'to a certain 
one el ? m ' f° r h™ a ^d his associates, who, unlike 'every- 
' had no interest in 'confusing [him], under the term of 


structuralist wi * L6vi-Strauss'.* 9 Thus when, over the suirmw 
Althusscr revived plans to launch the review Thiorie, he opted \L 
eive quesh° nS re ' atec * to structuralism and psychoanalysis a lar^ 

place in it; ^ e ^ rst issue was t0 inc ^ uc ^ e wor * c on t * ie Nation* 
between structuralism and L£vi-Strauss, Lacan, linguistics, ai^ 
'"structure" in Marx'- 

The ta^ of leading the anti-structuralist charge - or counter* 
attack sin ce structuralism was 'invading everything' - was inj fc 
tiallv entrusted to one of the co-authors of Reading Capital, Rog^ 
Establet Establet, however, demonstrated the urgency of his task 
by exanip le: he defected ' persuaded of the 'genuinely materialist 
character of structure in L6vi-Strauss' For Althusser, this apo^ 
tasv was merely further confirmation that the French Party and 
left in general were becoming 'increasingly L6vi-Straussian' It 
was in this climate that, after setting Theory and Practice aside in 
Julv he d as ^ ed o1 ^ '^ L6vi-Strauss', originally part of a 20 
Aueust letter that even its author considered 'extreme' - though 
not extreme enough to prevent him from distributing it widely 
in the autuntf 1 to anthropologists and others likely to rally the 
anti-structuralist offensive. 91 

The gravamen of Althusser's charge against structural anthro- 
i is anticipated in his book on Montesquieu: L£vi-Strauss 
explains the 'prodigious and daunting diversity of manners and 
morals' that constitutes the anthropologist's basic problem by 
reducing ^ em ( as Montesquieu does not) to 'an ideal and abstract 
model' o; Everything that resists such reduction he consigns to 
the realifl °' contingency. Thus he annuls the historical 'diversity 1 
(whether ^ at °^ distinct cultures or the distinct levels of a 
particular culture) from which he sets out: the characteristic 
structural^ operation consists in producing 'explanations of real 
historv' through an appeal to the 'varied combination . . oi 
"elements'" * n a combinatory, deemed capable of 'explaining 
historical effects by itself This latter-day Platonism is animated 
bv a 'spiritualist conception' that makes structure a principle ot 
coherence 'l atent ' * n what it structures, typically identifying * 
with the unconsciously operating 'laws of the human mind * 
Althusser s other criticisms of L£vi-Strauss are all predicated ofl 

&se two- ffi 

The first however, is quoted here from £tienne Balibar's \v** 

.^ nf his own rontributinn tn RpadinQ Camtal - faults 


other things, its reliance on something suspiciously 
{or, ain0 com binatory. The second occurs in a 1966 letter in 
a kin p. e fylacherey questions Althusser's conception of the 
^ pd whole' on the grounds that it is tied to a notion of 
5tfUC tructure' reminiscent of the structuralists'. Balibar goes 
' ateD reiect the 'temptation' of constructing what Althusser 
° n a n in 1966, as an example of the legitimate formalism that 
^° »t sts'with its structuralist parody: 'a formalized theory of 
con , f production in general' Such a formalization, Balibar 
m in 1973' 'can only be a theory of the mode of production in 
meral and its possible "variations" '; 93 in other words (Althus- 
r's protesting his innocence of structuralism), it can only lead 
to 'the crazy formalist idealism of the idea of producing the real 
bv a combinatory of elements'. 94 As for the notion of 'the struc- 
tural whole', Althusser himself acknowledged that it was 
'ambiguous': it could be construed as an 'interiority' and 'the 
correlate . of a unity'. 95 

Why does Althusser approve a 'formalized theory of modes 
of production in general' while condemning structuralism for 
'explaining' social phenomena as 'mere variations of a purely 
formal mode of combination' - and affirming that 'to understand a 
real phenomenon is not . a matter of producing the concept of 
its possibility, [but] the concept of its necessity'? The reason, in 
brief, is that he had from the beginnings of his enterprise 'set out 
to think singularity', while acknowledging that 'it is possible to 
think the singular and concrete only in concepts (which are thus 
abstract" and "general")' The general concept he mobilized to 
think this way of thinking the singular was the Spinozist 'singu- 
lar essence', 96 which might be defined as a complex unity itself 
made up of internally complex unities that nothing beyond the 
contingent necessity' of their encounter predestines to coalesce 
n or ganized whole. From the overdetermined social forma- 
.. ° *" e conjunction of Marxism's three sources, from the 
ture 1Ca P^ os °phi ca l conjuncture to its complement, the struc- 
block re ^ nt on ty ^ * ts effects, a great many of the basic building- 
r efer ° Marx and Reading Capital had been conceived with 

cond^ t0 thlS idea ' The formaUsm that /Qn L6vi-Strauss' both 
a ttemnf S and exem plifies stems, paradoxically, from the 
(an d th t0 Conce P tualize the 'question of empirical knowledge' 97 
s the union of theory and practice) in its terms. 


This yielded a new insistence that there could be no knowi 
edge of anything 'other than the singular and particular', siiw 
'a general principle yields knowledge only if specified in tk* 
forms required by its singular object' Singular objects were now 
named 'empirical concepts', an equivalent for 'singula 
essences' that brought out the dependence of the knowledge qi 
'facts' on the system of concepts that produced it. This clang, 
cation gave rise to another, worked out in notes dating fro^ 
summer 1966; it bore on the relation between 'theoretical 
objects' and the singular objects of which they produced knowt 
edge. The crux of it was that a particular theory produced, not 
knowledge of 'its' object, but new relations among 'theoretical 
objects 7 situated within a field whose limits it defined; the field 
contained both real and virtual objects, and could thus produce 
knowledge of (real) singular essences only if it was combined 
with '(empirical) knowledge of the determinate forms of exist- 
ence that make for the singularity of these essences' As each 
particular or 'regional' theory transformed relations between the 
theoretical objects in its field, so it was itself one of the objects 
of another, more comprehensive 'general theory' which, in its 
turn, transformed the relations among a number of regional 

The task of philosophy, at this point in Althusser's thinking, 
was to combine existing general theories, identified as the 
Althusserian 'attributes', by theorizing the conjunctural relations 
between them. Since philosophy was now also conceived as 
contained in the conjuncture it theorized, 'to say that it is the 
Theory of the conjuncture of all existing Theories does not mean 
that it is their General Theory = there is no general theory of 
General Theories, for, if there were, it would be absolute knowl* 
edge; it is merely the Theory of the combination of existing 
Theories in their present conjuncture' y8 In the philosophical 
conjuncture, philosophy thus had its singular object, apparently 
analogous with those of all other forms of knowledge. Th* 5 
particular 'singularity', however, was a manifestation of tf* 
unity of the totality of the real, testifying to the still transcended 
nature of a philosophy which, albeit 'conjunctural', provide 
knowledge of the 'combination of [all] existing Theories 7 ° 
'attributes' The singularity of the object of Theory was th 1 ^ 
deceptive; philosophy concerned itself with the present moitt en 


.. w hose universality could not be said to 'exist only in 
of a . u i ar / . 

t he p ar ctura list potential of this scheme is plain: if General 

• are conceived as subsuming regional theories which in 

T"h eorl bsurne the fields containing their (real and virtual) 

^^ ne can perfectly well conclude that in this version of 

Althusserian dialectic, as in its theoreticist predecessor, 'the 

nt of the "pure' 7 theory of historically representable sets 

m ° recedes the theory of historical structures'. 94 As for the 

viso that theoretical objects must be combined with 'empirical 
knowledge' to produce the concept of 'the necessity of a real 
phenomenon', it begs the question: how is this combination to 
be thought, if not, in L£vi-Straussian fashion, as knowledge of a 
necessary form supplemented by knowledge of its contingent 
content? Althusser's response was to eliminate the question (his 
own) by replacing it with another: how could the 'conjunctural' 
combination of theories be conceived without recourse to notions 
of generality that cast it in terms of genus and species? The new 
question begins to materialize in 'Three Notes on the Theory of 
Discourses', in which his thinking about general and regional 
theories moves centre stage. 

Dated September-October 1966, 'Three Notes' opened a for- 
mal exchange between Althusser and his associates that he 
initiated in the course of writing it, in the unrealized hope of 
turning out a book by several hands, Elements of Dialectical 
Materialism. The text is a taxonomy of the types of discourse 
specific to theory, ideology, art and the unconscious. It focuses 
on the production of the singular essence Althusser calls the 
subject of ideology, which is one way of defining the theory of 
jnterpellation it introduces. Developing ideas indebted less to 
of p R S essa y on *^ e mirror stage than to a symptomatic reading 
k euerbach, it describes the ideological mirror structure that 
Alft ° rmS . the conflictual encounter at the origins of what 

recas^ 5 ^ • initlally terms the ' sub J ect of the ^conscious' by 
Subi f ^ ** aS ^ e ideological subject's 'subsumption' under a 

the mis aUaCk ° n Uvi - Strauss4n - Lacan - Attributing 

has its ° nce P tion toat the 'regional theory' of psychoanalysis 
general theory in linguistics, which, says Althusser, he 


intermittently conceives, after L£vi-Strauss, as the 'mother-di^ 
pline of the human sciences', 'Three Notes' objects that flu 
theory of the unconscious must, rather, be assigned to historic!! 
materialism, but also to a nascent general theory of 'the signify? 
It moves towards the fundamentally anti-Lacanian conclusion 
which the third note opposes to what the first affirms, that onj v 
one type of discourse, the ideological, has a subject properly $1 

If so, ideology is one thing and the unconscious is something 
else entirely - a premiss that makes it possible to think the effects 
of each on the other: that is, their articulated combination. This 
might be regarded as Althusser's posthumous contribution to 
the ongoing debate about the thesis for which he is best known 
in the Anglophone world: 'ideology interpellates individuals as 
subjects'. Broached in a 1963 discussion of the 'imputation of 
forms of behaviour' to the subject, the mechanism of interpella- 
tion is here named and sketched in the context of a critique of 
Lacan that is absent from the canonical text on the topic, 
although that critique remained central to Althusser's project. 101 
'Three Notes' thus points to the need for a reinterpretation of his 
thinking on the relations between the unconscious and ideology, 
attested by the fact that a knowledgeable critic could write, 
shortly before the text was published, that the Althusserian 
school never made any 'real attempt to '"articulate" historical 
materialism and psychoanalysis' - precisely what 'Three Notes' 
tries to do. Thus Althusser anticipates the objection that he lacks 
a theory of the subject, or misses the dimension of desire 
underpinning interpellation, with the argument that ideological 
discourse is overdetermined by those effects of the unconscious 
to which it offers a 'hold', even as certain effects of the uncon- 
scious are in turn overdetermined by the ideological subject- 
effect. As if to refute the charge that he nurtures 'hegemonic 
ambitions' at the expense of psychoanalysis/ 02 'Three Notes 
leaves it to a psychoanalytic theory that has ceded the category 
of the subject to ideology to explain how the process of interp^* 
lation is conditioned by the unconscious, present in the subject- 
centred mirror structure of ideology only in the form of '& 
absence - an absence masked, precisely, by the presence of *h e 
ideological subject-effect. To the end of his life, Althusser cot 1 ' 
tinued to plead for the division of labour outlined here. 101 


idea that psychoanalysis has two general theories, 
.^Notes' remarks, in passing: 

this case will seem 'special' to us if we cling to an idea of 
datura y, Theory] mired in the Aristotelian categories of inclu- 
* C d subsumption. On this conception of 'generality', which it 
sl0n us absolutely necessary to reject, the GT maintains relations 
^ em * nsion W ith its RTs (since every RT is included in its GT, one 
TTiis enough to account for an RT). On this conception, an RT 
nnot depend on two GTs; it can depend on just one. 

The relationship between the two general theories on which 
tain re gj nal theories depend is, Althusser adds, comparable 
to the 'overlap' between two machines; one of the French terms 
he uses (empittement) suggests, more clearly than the English, 
that what is involved is interference or encroachment rather than 
mere redundancy. In an aside reminiscent of For Marx's affirma- 
tion that the 'exceptional' social formation is not an exception 
but the rule, he suggests that the case of a regional theory 
ascribable to two general theories is not an 'isolated instance' 
Further discussion of the subject is postponed. 

Althusser returned to it in spring 1967, which saw him 
working on a spate of projects after the depression that afflicted 
him from November to March: the creation of the Groupe 
Spinoza; plans to launch the review Thforie under its auspices; a 
revision of Vteory and Practice, which he hoped to publish as two 
separate books that autumn; and the last three of our texts, 'On 
Feuerbach', 'The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy', and 
The Humanist Controversy'. 'On Feuerbach' is part of a spring 
1967 lecture course based on his translations of Feuerbach's early 
work and eight-year-old draft chapters of a monograph on it; a 
ersion of the course was earmarked for a (never completed) 
* ° ® n The German Ideology, on the drawing board since early 
, ^ e cours e was beginning, a 'summary of Althusser's 
refi a WaS unex P ecte dly commissioned (only to be later 
seiz h ^ e ^ eac '" 1 g Soviet philosophical journal; Althusser 

as th the ° ccasion to turn out ,Jhe Historical Task', intended, 
Co . Pedagogical style shows, for readers unfamiliar with the 

*e fi r eXiHeS ° f Western Marxist debate. In May, he rounded off 

Philo u a ^ °^ *^ s essav Wl ^ an innovative chapter on 

P"y and politics, born of the reflections he had been 


pursuing in Theory and Practice, and decided to issue n, 
expanded text in France; the result was a projected monograph 
which reached proof stage before it was abandoned. In Jm^ 
after dispatching 'The Historical Task' to Moscow, he beg^J 
planning a French version of a collection proposed by a Mexican 
publisher the previous autumn; it was to include his \%i 
'Marxism and Humanism' and selections from the debate that 
the essay had touched off in the NC. What exists of 'The 
Humanist Controversy' was produced at a furious pace early j^ 
the summer to introduce the (abortive) French book. 1 ' 15 It is not 
surprising, then, that the last three texts in the present volume 
should share many of the same themes. Among them - although 
this is rarely explicit - is the search for a new 'conception of 
generality' capable of accommodating the new conception of a 
'conjunctural 7 philosophy. 

'Thought', we read in 'On Feuerbach', 'that "seeks to encroach 

upon its other" - and the "other of thought" is being - is thought 

that oversteps its natural boundaries. This encroaching upon its 

other on the part of thought means that it claims for itself that 

which does not properly belong to thought but to being. That which 

belongs to being is particularity and individuality, whereas that 

which belongs to thought is generality.' Taken from Feuerbach's 

critique of Hegel, this Althusserian passage, says Althusser, 

raises the spectre of nominalism: if Feuerbach admits that only 

individuals exist, he risks making his version of essence, the 

human genus, nothing but a name, 'bound up with history and 

the politico-ideological conjuncture' But 'Feuerbach is not a 

nominalist' He has a theory of 'the unity', under reason, of the 

'attributes of the human essence' (reason, will, and the heart), 

such that 'everything that is an object of reason simultaneously 

is, or can be, an object of [non-theoretical] practice'. Feuerbach's 

philosophy is thus 'simultaneously a theory of knowledge and 

of practice' 'This, of course, has implications', remarks his critic, 

'not only for the nature of ideologies, philosophy, and the 

sciences, but also for politics, which is reduced to a critique of 

the illusions of consciousness about itself, with the whole resting 

on the thesis of the practical and theoretical primacy of con* 

sciousness.' Feuerbach is not a nominalist, but a theoreticist. 106 

Yet it is not his theoreticism which founds his realism, but the 
reverse. Feuerbach's basic claim, according to Althusser, is that 


1/the essential exists as the human genus, which 
tft e ^ el \ the essence of each individual. Man has an existential 
c ° nStl of this in sexuality and an alienated consciousness of 
exp erie ,. - on which, objectifying his essence, constitutes his 
** * n * I obiect. The founding principle of Feuerbach's philos- 
e =* Sen . accordingly that man's relationship to his fellow 
° \ n like his relationship to the objects of his consciousness, 
• elationship to his own attributes, that is to say, to his 

generic essence. 

1 making this demonstration, Althusser says, Feuerbach pro- 
duces an account of ideology which, albeit ideological, neverthe- 
less lays bare the speculary structure informing all ideology. 
Feuerbachian man finds the reflection of Man everywhere; Feu- 
erbach 'puts all humanity through the mirror stage'. 107 So, 
Althusser adds, does L6vi-Strauss. The characteristic operation 
of structural anthropology is to show that apparently diverse or 
even contradictory practices of a society (or of several) are 
structurally equivalent - that is, result from determinate, if 
unconscious, transformations of a set of unvarying rules. 'On 
Feuerbach' identifies this isomorphism, the 'homology of structure 
that makes it possible to think unity through convertibility' ', with 
the Feuerbachian mirror structure that makes all man's objects 
reflections of his essence. Since Levi-Strauss is said to trace the 
isomorphism of only apparently diverse practices to the oper- 
ations of the immutable, unconscious Taws of the human mind', 
it is a short step to the argument that the dean of the structural- 
ists, who had declared in a polemic with Sartre that 'the ultimate 
goal of the human sciences [is] not to constitute, but to dissolve 
411 / is a secret sharer in the (Feuerbachian) humanism he 
ontests. 'On Feuerbach' extends the argument to phenomenol- 
ogy and hermeneutics, emphasizing the fact that all three are 

erbachian' philosophies of consciousness conceived as a 
Co lrror struct ure. But the text also shows that the question of 
me ^ l ° USness is not essential to its argument; the more funda- 
Pri P° ln t is that the mirror structure as such ensures the 
Un i c y °* unity over diversity, the 'imposition of difference 

<* non-difference' 
u nvv -. ln those terms, the criticism of Feuerbach and his 
F 0r a* S heirs applies to its author as well In the Althusser of 
' it was theoreticist theory which ensured the primacy 


of unity over diversity by assigning all the social practices thei 
subordinate place within the totality of which theory alonp 
provided the knowledge. But the resulting mirror structu^ 
which invested Theory with the unity of the totality and the' 
other way around, did not disappear as soon as Althuss^ 
rejected his theoreticist definition of philosophy; rather, it s^.. 
vived in a form which sought to compensate for the fact that 
there was now no 'general theory of General Theories'. Witness 
the attempt in 'Three Notes', to find a functional equivalent for 
the supposedly unifying role of Spinozist substance: 'if we do 
not think the possibility of an articulation between GTs, we wJJi 
remain at the level of the parallelism of the attributes and of the 
temptation that constantly accompanies it, the conflation of the 
attributes' That is, the only way not to fall back into theoreticism 
of the kind that made theory 'simultaneously a theory of knowl- 
edge and of practice' - or, according to Feuerbach-in-Althusser, 
an expression of 'the essence of theoretical practice in general' 
and thus of 'the essence of practice in general' - was to produce 
a substitute for it: philosophy had, at all events, to be charged 
with preserving the unity of the whole of which it was supposed 
to be a reflection. Moreover, the persistence of philosophy's 
unifying function at the 'horizontal 7 level, that occupied by the 
major sciences (or General Theories) and philosophy itself, had 
its counterpart in the 'vertical' unity between the various 'theo- 
retical objects' and their real and virtual "variations": that is, in 
the persistence of something not unlike an originary essence 
down through the long line of transformations that ultimately 
culminate in something rather like their phenomena. The previ- 
ous sentence paraphrases the criticism of the ideology of genesis 
sketched in 'On Feuerbach' - which thus marks out a place for 
its author in the Feuerbacho-phenomenologico-hermeneutic fam- 
ily portrait it paints. 

The contradiction this points to is not resolved but exacer- 
bated in 'The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy' It is hetf 
that Althusser first elaborates the twin insights that to mak^ 
dialectical materialism a science is to make it a species °* 
absolute knowledge, whereas to recognize that it is not a scieflC* 
because ideology is a 'squatter' inside it is to recognize that i 
has an 'intimate, organic relation' to politics. 109 But these ne^ 
ideas remain tied to others commanded by both the variant o 


that sets out from a 'theoretical object' only to find it 

ggneticis var iations, and the affirmation that philosophy, 

again ir * longer a science, provides knowledge of 'what is 

althoug ca iied. the "totality" of the real'. Indeed, geneticism 

irnpr P ^ eore ti C i sr n' are increasingly intertwined: the totality 

• h whatever its alias, is still both philosophy's 'theoretical 

w ,' n j 'the real', has its variations in the conjunctures which 

ot) ' e . j^ e 'determinate forms of existence' of this totality. The 

can . ncture is thus a singular essence which is a form of exist- 

con ' f a higher unity. Philosophy in Althusser, like structure in 

& M-Strauss, continues to impose 'difference under non-differ- 

nC e'- the non-difference it imposes is indifferently the totality's 

and its own. 

How is this squared with the thesis that materialist philos- 
ophy is caught up in constant combat with the ideology it 
contains - that, as 'The Humanist Controversy' affirms, a sci- 
ence's break with ideology is 'an event of very long duration 
that, in a sense, never ends'? The answer is that the 'continuing 
break' is here conceived as secondary; it has its origins in 
another, inaugural break, which institutes a science that must be 
further developed on the one hand and protected, on the other, 
from the ideologies that 'besiege 7 it. The theory of the encounter, 
then, applies only up to the moment of the emergence of a 
science. Thereafter, philosophy's defence of the sciences against 
the ideologies it contains - that is, fends off - is the purely 
external confrontation required by a defence of the scientific 
fortress against the incursions of its foes. The metaphor is on 
prominent display in 'The Historical Task 7 1 w 

The conception of philosophy that sustained it was, however, 
already under attack from within Althusser's own work. The 

n que of the ideology of genesis, or of 'genus' in Feuerbach, 

as implicitly a rejection of it. An alternative had begun to 
r ge in the thesis that the regional theory of psychoanalysis 
AIh/ 00 *^ * n * e con fli ctua l conjunction of two general theories, 
ilar H SSer S W0r k on L£vi-Strauss contained the structurally sim- 
granh^ ev sn 'primitive' societies, invested by 'the ethno- 

c onc ,C att | tuc * e ' wit h an 'originary simplicity', had to be 
] east * ' kke all others, as resulting from the combination of at 
Were ° mo( * es °* production; 111 thus they represented, as it 
n Aginary duplicity or multiplicity. These concrete 


instances of 'the unevenness of origins' (the subtitle of the lew 
'On the Materialist Dialectic') 1 ,2 prefigure the affirmation, in 'Tk. 
Humanist Controversy', of the 'non-originary nature of y^ 
origin', an idea whose paternity Althusser here rather inconsj^ 
tently attributes to a single father, Jacques Derrida, even whiL 
arguing that concepts, like modes of production and most other 
things of consequence, tend to have several. Althusser's second 
definition of philosophy - a statement of its non-originary origin 
in science and ideology - would crystallize when this concept 
got the better of the geneticism informing his theory of theory. 

Once it had, Althusser possessed the means for thinking his 
politically determined insight into the political nature of philos- 
ophy. The alternative to the theoreticism for which Marxist 
philosophy had been fathered by the theoretical revolution that 
spawned the twin sciences of historical and dialectical material- 
ism was not regression to the historicism for which philosophy 
was a mere extension of politics. Philosophy could, rather, be 
conceived as originating in an origin that is not one, in and as 
the conflictual encounter between science and politics/ideology. 
The concept of generality adumbrated in 'Three Notes', in other 
words, was the condition for extending the theory of the encoun- 
ter beyond the moment of the break: philosophy could then be 
thought as a continuing break with the ideological that cease- 
lessly constitutes and reconstitutes itself through the process of 
the break, rather than as its result. The principle underlying this 
conception of its activity as a division or dividing neither pre- 
ceded nor followed by a unity is spelled out in a well-known 
passage of Althusser's self-criticism: 

It is impossible to separate the classes from class struggle. The class 
struggle and the existence of classes are one and the same thing- & 1 
order for there to be classes in a 'society', the society has to be divide* 
into classes; this division does not come later in the story it is th* 
class struggle which constitutes the division into classes. 

The passage dates, it is true, from 1972. But here is another 
written early in 1966: 

The opposition of particular interests [in Rousseau's Social ContTW* 
means that particular interest is constituted by the universal °?V Cr 
si Hon which is the essence of the state of war. There are not fi* 5 


. each with his own particular interest, opposition inter- 
indiv» u se q U ently as an accident The opposition is primary. 113 

realm of theory as well, opposition is primary. This is 

the shortest way of summarizing Althusser's turn of 

^AfJ whose concrete implications can be restated in the 

of his 1972 remark on the primacy of class struggle: 

teTt \ oohv and the existence of the division between the sciences 

P . .r ideologies are one and the same thing. Fundamentally, 

a j s n0 ^ contrary to what he had maintained down to the 

and even a little beyond it, first ideology, and then science, 

nd then the opposition between them. Rather, the opposition 
between the scientific and the ideological stems from a process 
of division that does not come later in the story, but is consti- 
tuted by philosophy, the class struggle in theory; it takes the 
form of an internal division between philosophy and the ideol- 
ogy it contains, carried out in the name of a defence of the 
scientific that is, in the last instance, political. In philosophy, the 
'second' Althusser might have said, opposition is all. 

Before he could say anything of the sort, however, he had to 
establish the primacy of opposition within his own theory of 
theory. He would do so explicitly only with the first formulation, 
in autumn 1967, of his new definition of philosophy. The new 
and deeper self-criticism that cleared the way for it was fully 
stated only afterwards. But, although Althusser might not have 
realized it at the time, it was presented indirectly in the July 
1967 'Humanist Controversy', by way of a discussion of the 
tribute that the Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts paid to an ideologi- 
cal conception of unity even as he struggled to formulate, on the 

rrain of the emergent science of historical materialism, the 
Principle that opposition is primary, 

'Th w Ceived as a rejoinder to Althusser's critics at Argenteuil, 

lab nist Controversy' claims to be nothing more than a 

a nd°t n r of critical repetition' of Marx's break with Feuerbach, 

i sm f 11 ^. ^ Althusser's own polemic against the Marxist human- 

Paves th ° Wn day ' But ' aS m /Jhe HistoricaI Task '' re P etition 
Capital ^ e Wa ^ ^ 0r a ma l or innovation. For Marx and Reading 
°bstacl u treatec * * ne Hegelian dialectic as an epistemological 
Hu ma ^. at Mar * had to clear away to become Marx; 'The 
1St Con troversy' says, rather, that Marx owes Hegel the 


key concept of the 'process without a subject'. More generals 
Althusser suggests that, purged of the teleology that is nevert^ 
less built into its very structures, the Hegelian dialectic can be 
rewritten in materialist terms. As a process whose only subw 
is 'the process itself, it offers an alternative to the humanism 
that was the lynchpin of bourgeois ideology; the Hegelian con- 
ception of the non-originary nature of the origin is incompatibly 
with the geneticism, and thus with the evolutionism, which 
Hegel is more commonly taken to underwrite. To combat the 
resurgence of humanism and carry out the concomitant 'radical 
critique of the ideology of genesis' called for in 'On Feuerbach' 
the implicit thesis would seem to run, Marxism could do worse 
than to make, following Marx, a critical return to Hegel. 

Any such return must, however, set out from a criticism of 
Marx's. The early Marx contracted his debt to Hegel, Althusser 
says, while trying to historicize Feuerbachian humanism by 
grafting the Hegelian dialectic onto it. The result was an impasse, 
because it proved impossible to marry Hegelian process to the 
inherently ahistorical categories of Feuerbach's philosophy, 
above all the one that epitomized its 'radical negation of history', 
Man. Hegelianized, humanism could only yield an essentially 
religious ideology of genesis, a version of process that always 
began with a subject always discovered again at the end, because 
everything that lay in between was a reflection or emanation of 
it. Man, in other words, ensured the primacy of unity over a 
historical dialectic which, in a certain Hegel, a Hegel read against 
the grain, proceeded from the idea that opposition is primary. 

It was this genuinely materialist notion of process that Mart 
put beyond his reach by imprisoning Hegel in Feuerbach in the 
1844 Manuscripts. He continued to suffer the consequences in Tfe 
German Ideology, in which an incipiently Marxist conception 01 
dialectic is lamed by a geneticism that subordinates historical 
difference to a principle of unity represented, not now by M^ 
but by 'concrete individuals', historicized representatives of the 
transhistorical Feuerbachian Subject. Such historicization of tW 
inherently transhistorical involved a contradiction in terms; l 
was the form in which, in Marx, the (Feuerbachian) attack °*j 
history survived Marx's critique of it, although that critique b& 
already initiated the revolutionary break that would issue in tn 
Marxist dialectic. 


• an accurate account of Marx's theoretical crisis of 
If tWS was Althusser's turn of 1966-67 not a 'critical rep- 
1044-45' - m a se nse that he could scarcely have intended? 

etiti ° n Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts, Althusser too had put a 
Like tn - stemo i gical obstacle' in the path he had himself 
maSSlV to open up. 114 Moreover, it was, broadly speaking, the 
begun - c ^ a transhistorical category implying a radical 

broadly speaking, the 
1 obstacle, a transhistorical categoi 
Same ri n of history; and, in Althusser as in Marx, it checked the 
^^looment of the key category of process. The difference was 

u in Althusser, this transhistorical category was not Man, but 
Th orV/ and that it thwarted the progress not of historical, but 

f dialectical materialism, standing in the way of a conception of 
philosophy as process initiated by his recognition of its basically 
political nature. In Althusser too, the epistemological obstacle 
briefly survived the critique that would lead to its disappear- 
ance, and for much the same reason: Althusser's 'conjuncturali- 
zation' of philosophy, like Marx's historicization of Feuerbachian 
Man, was predicated on a contradictory union of transcendence 
and immanence that situated philosophy in the historical singu- 
larity of a conjuncture while also making it the guardian of an 
always already given totality of which the conjuncture was the 
ephemeral manifestation. So conceived, the philosophical con- 
juncture was, like the 'concrete individual' of The German Ideol- 
ogy, the idealist 'premiss' squatting within a tendentially 
materialist theory of theory - even while it pointed the way to 
its own suppression, as do many of the ideological obstacles 
which, Althusser notes in 'The Humanist Controversy', have a 
curious kinship with the theoretical concepts whose emergence 
they block. 

it is legitimate to associate this relation of a still- transhistor- 
H T 60 !^ *° 'its' conjuncture with the conception of generality 
t he ideology of genesis that, in one way or another, all the 
off e S C ° Ilected b elow contest, then 'The Humanist Controversy' 
a ttem a e aS t0 W ^ * ts aut ^ or abandoned this unfinished 
^eorv * T foundin S what /Qn Feuerbach' calls a 'non-genetic 
matte ^ storica l irruption' in order to attend to more urgent 
a ttack ^usser no doubt realized, in the course of the witty 

e nd of tk ^ arx ^ st variant of geneticism that comes near the 
still in j Humanist Controversy' as we have it, that he was 
gue with the adversaries he was trying to drive from 


the field: in a consistently non-genetic theory - a theory of th- 
encounter - materialist philosophy had to be conceived as deriy s 
ative of nothing but the encounter that engendered it, while i^ 
'historical irruption' had to be approached less as a datable eve™ 
than as an endlessly ongoing process. It followed that the notion 
of the continuing break put forward in 'The Humanist Corttro, 
versy' had to be invested with a meaning very different from the 
one that it had there, another way of saying that Althusser's 
continuing break with himself had only been initiated in his 
writings and political struggles of 1966-67. We have barely 
begun to come to terms with the transformation of philosophy 
that it augured. 


1. For the French text of 'Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses', as 
well as Francois Matheron's and Olivier Corpet's introduction and 
notes, see Ecrits sur la psychanalyse, ed. Matheron and Corpet, Paris, 
1993, pp. 111-70. 'The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy' is trans- 
lated from the proofs of a monograph (9-02.05) that Althusser did not 
pass for press; the authorized Hungarian edition of an earlier, some- 
what shorter version appeared in his Marx - az elme'let forradalma, trans. 
Ernb Gero, Budapest, 1968, pp. 272-306. The originals of the other 
writings translated below may be found in EPP II: 169-251, 393-532. 

2. 'RSC, a major study of the Social Contract, is culled from a course 
Althusser gave early in 1966; 'SRC, the essay on the Cultural Revolu- 
tion, was written nine months later. Eric Marty offers an unintention- 
ally hilarious analysis of these two texts {Louis Althusser, Paris, 1999, 
pp. 143-62), pillorying the article on China as an 'apology for totalitar- 
ianism' before torturing the inevitable 'inevitable retraction' for it out 
of its ancestor. The proleptic recantation was, be it noted, reprinted in 
1972 - about the same time its author dropped some rather spectacu- 
larly unrepentant remarks on the Cultural Revolution ('RTJU 131-2) 
that Marty magnanimously overlooks. 

3. Guy Besse, Letter of 14 May 1966 to Henri Krasucki, AWR 8, 5, ej 
Letter of 12 July 1966 to Besse. Althusser released the two chapters o* 
Theory and Practice as 'MHMD' and 'OTW' (April 1966 and 1# 7 ' 

4. Francois Matheron, Introduction, SH 2. Key passages are sharpy 
condensed in Althusser's later work, notably parts of 'The Philosop^ 
cal Conjuncture' in 'LP' 172-3 and 'PSPS' 122; 'The Humanist Contro- 
versy' in 'ESC' 113-14; 'On Feuerbach' in 'BMP' 231 ff. '°* 


uss' is liberally quoted in Emmanuel Terray, Marxism and 
\ itive' Societies, trans. Mary Klopper, London, 1972, pp. 178-9 and 

^ 55l ^iew with Gerard Beilouin, 6 November 1992, cited in Frederique 
^ tC H 'La double illusion: La Nouvelle critique, une revue du PCF 
qfi7-1980)', Doctoral thesis, University of Paris 1, 1996, p. 159. Bellouin 

a member of the Party's Section for Intellectuals and Culture. The 
pTF's other two great men of the hour were Louis Aragon and Roger 

p 699, 4 August 1966; Perry Anderson, In the Tracks of Historical 
Materialism, London, 1983, p. 37; Teoria e metodo', Rinascita, 25 January 

1964, p. 28. 

7 Waldeck Rochet, Le Marxisme et les chemins de Yavenir, Paris, 1966, 
op 288-9; 'A propos des ouvrages publies', 9-05.06, pp. 2-3; LF 671, 
12 May 1966; unposted letter of 7 June 1966 to Lucien Seve. 

8 On the phantom career of the long-planned review, see Francois 
Matheron, 'L'impossible revue Thiorie de Louis Althusser', La Revue des 
revues, no. 32 (2003), pp. 33-51. 

9 SISS 84; 'MHMD' 105, 117. 

10. 'MHMD' 105, 117, 121-2; 'TTPTF 8, 13; Trojet de reponse a Jorge 
Semprun', 3-05.02, p. 2. 

11. 'TTPTF' 27. 

12. 'The Historical Task', p. 215. 

13. Letter of 12 May 1966 to fitienne Balibar. 

14. Letter of 2 September 1966 to Michel Verret; 'NCA', 4. 

15. RC 128. 

16. 'R', 9-05.01, pp. 43-4. 

17 As is spelled out, in what Althusser considered a 'prodigiously illumi- 
nating' essay (letter of 14 May 1965 to Pierre Macherey), in Macherey, 
'On the Rupture', trans. Ted Stolze, The Minnesota Review, 26, 1986, 
pp. 122-3. 

18. ^Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses', p. 65. See also Peter Thomas, 
'Philosophical Strategies: Althusser and Spinoza', Historical Materialism, 
10, no. 3, 2002, p. 78. 

I 9 'The Historical Task', p. 213. 

20. FM 210. 

11' !f^ er oi 22 January 1964 to Michel Verret. 
?■ TPh' 246. 
23. FM 169. 

Sur la genese', 11-02.01. The theory of the encounter is associated with 
theory of the clinamen' in contemporaneous notes on Pierre Mach- 

25 ^^ s Towards a Theory of Literary Production (11-02.06). 

26 'Tk' 8 *° 1 ,04 ' P " 3 and P assim > The Historical Task', p. 214. 

For ^^P 01031 Conjuncture', p. 12; Diverses notes 1966, 11-02.02. 
the view that it was Jacques Lacan who taught Althusser, late in 
career, that 'the union of theory and practice must be thought at 

a in. e °* etn i cs '> se * Joon-kee Hong, Der Subjektbegriff bei Lacan und 

Whusser, Frankfurt, 2000, p. 215. 


27. TP f 7-01.10, pp. 93-4; see also 'TTPTF 23. A Spanish version of {l. 
passage is available in Althusser et aL, Polemica sobre marxistt^ 
humanismo, trans. Marta Harnecker, Mexico City, 1968, pp. 183-6, * 

28. 'The Historical Task', pp. 215, 209. 

29. TRW 21 (an 'interview' that Althusser in fact conducted withhim^^ 
The canonical formulation of 1972 reads: 'philosophy is, in the ut 
instance, class struggle in the field of theory' ('RTJL' 67). ^ 

30. 'The Historical Task', p. 212. 

31. 'NSP' 318; 'OEYM' Compare 'LP' 181, 183. 

32. Letter of 21 July 1967 to Michel Simon; LF 751, 754, August 1967 an<| 6 
December 1967. 

33. Four of the five lectures Althusser gave to lead off this course taught 
with half a dozen associates are available in PSPS 69-165. The fifth 
published posthumously as 'Du cot£ de la philosophie', EPP II: 253-9g 
has yet to be translated. 

34. For the earliest published self-criticism, see RC 7-8. Most anglophone 
readers discovered a somewhat bolder version of it when they dfc. 
covered Althusser; see FM 14-15, 256. 

35. 'R', 9-05.01, pp. 43-4; 'NCA' 3. 

36. See Lire It Capital, ed. fitienne Balibar, Paris, 1996, pp. 635-61. 
37 Letter of 10 October 1963 to Michel Verret. See also 'PSH' 55-7. 

38. 'Notes sur L£vi-Strauss, La Pensie sauvage', 60-04, pp. 18-19. 

39. 'MPH' 102; TPh' 263-4; unposted letter of 24 November 1963 to Lucien 
S£ve; letter of 21 December 196[3] to Pierre Macherey; 'NCA' 4-5; la 
conjoncture, 4 mai 1967', 11-03.01, p. 2. 

40. 'RTJL' 66. The exception that proves the rule is Gregory Elliott, Althusr 
set, London, 1987, still the best book available on the relation between 
Althusser's politics and his philosophy. 

41. Isolde Charim, Der Althusser-Effekt, Vienna, 2002, p. 15. 

42. FM 213, 51n.; TSMP' 209; 'La coupure', 8-03.06, p. 2; letter of 14 August 
1966 to Michel Verret. 

43. FM 116, 237; 'ACP', passim; 'R', 9-05.01, pp. 5-6, 10, 12, 15; "H* 
Humanist Controversy', p. 224n. 

44- FM 214; 'OTW' 56; 'The Historical Task', p. 192; 'R', 9-05.01, p. 1* 
'Lettre aux camarades du CC du PCF, 42-04.01, p. 18; SISS 17. 

45. Gilbert Mury, Choisy 47, 49. 

46. Roger Garaudy, Man tour du sfecle en solitaire, Paris, 1989, p. 21°' 
Garaudy, Perspectives de I'homme, Paris, 1959, p. 1 ff. 

47. Aragon, Letter of 19 January 1966 to Waldeck Rochet, pp. 132-4; lett* 
of 14 May 1965 to Michel Simon (part of this letter was published J* 
Polemica sobre marxismo y humanismo, pp. 192-8). 

48. The Future Lasts a Long Time, ed. Olivier Corpet and Yann M 01 ^.:, 
Boutang, trans. Richard Veasey, London, 1993, p. 183, translation t&f*. 
fied; Jacques Arnault, 'Note en vue de la rencontre du mercredi 
November 1965', AFC, 4, B. / i 

49. AWR, 8, 4, a (1966?); see also Entretien avec Waldeck Rochet', ?£ 
Francois Matheron, Annates 185, where Althusser first makes the el 
that Rochet confessed to pretending to be a humanist for political reaso 


Arnault Letter of 4 March 1966 to the Section for Intellectuals 

*>• ^rulwre, AFC Box 11. 

and ^ u \4ury, Letter to all the friends and comrades of Gilbert Mury, 

51 Suzanne J' e Bourseiller ^ ^0^5, Paris, 1996, p. 269. 

cited in e ^ Roger Garaudy, Les "Manuscrits de 1844" de Karl Marx', 

52 fM}&~ ' mmU nisme, no. 39, March 1963, p. 118; Garaudy, letter of 
^'l «rv 1966 to Waldeck Rochet. 

28 hi Simon Letter of 15 January 1966 to Louis Althusser, 
53 ' !^ The Humanist Controversy', p. 224. 

^ 5 xr hel Verret, personal communication, 23 July 2000; Francois Hincker, 
^ !m C hel Verret et La Nouvelle critique', in Philographies, Saint-S£bastien, 

igft7 p 223 Verret, 'Note soumise a la reunion des philosophes du 

PCFdes 22 et 23 January 1966', AWR, 7, 1, c, p. 8. 

Roeer Garaudy, Interview with Robert Geerlandt, in Geerlandt, Gar- 
' audi/ et Althusser, Paris, 1978, p. 29. 

58 Michel Verret, 'Sur Theorie et pratique', in Theorie et politique, Paris, 
1967, pp. 127-85- 

59 Louis Aragon, Letter of 19 January 1966 to Waldeck Rochet, Annates 
132; Roger Garaudy, Letters of 16 June 1966 (AWR 8, 2, g) and 14 
February 1966 (AWR 9, 2, b) to Waldeck Rochet. 

60. 'La conjoncture, 4 mai 1967', 11-03.01, p. 2. 

61. Secretariat, 15 March 1966; Cahiers du communisme, May-June 1966, 
no. 5-6; Intervention de Louis Aragon au titre de rapporteur du projet 
de Resolution', Annates 139; 'Analyse de la Resolution du Comite 
Central', 42-04.02, p. 2; 'Le Parti communiste, ies intellectuels et la 
culture: Resolution sur les problemes idgologiques et culturels', Annates 

62. Jacques Arnault, Letter of 7 December 1965 to the Section for Intellec- 
tuals and Culture; Arnault, 'ficrit de memoire', unpublished Ms., 1994, 
P 6; [Francis Cohen], unsigned handwritten note, AFC 4, B. 

63. Letter of 30 September 1966 to fitienne Balibar. 

64 'Reponse a une critique', EPP II: 365; FM 65, 80n; 'L'homme Helv£tius' 

(radio programme), France Culture, 15 January 1962. 
6* rr' 9 ~ 05,02 ' P- 34 unposted letter of 24 November 1963 to Lucien Seve. 
™ LF 608, 611, 18 March and 18 April 1965. 
■ Wter to Michel Verret of 23 February 1965; 'Note pour H. Krasucki 

iqL? poiitk l ue du Parti a 1'egard des travaiileurs intellectuels (25/2/ 

68 rlt ' ?"° 3 - 01 ' PP" 12 ~ 13 ' 18 - 20 ' 22 ' 

69 j} 7^ of 6 January 1966 to Michel Verret; 'TTPTF 38. 

Mich 1 6U/ 18 March and 18 AP 1 * 11 1965 ' Letters of 23 February 1965 to 
70. i F VZ Verret and 5 April 1965 to Michel Simon. 

Verrt 1 j ° March 1966 ' letters of 6 and 26 January 1966 to Michel 
7l - Utte t erS ° f 17 and 28 la 1111 ^ 1966 to Pierre Macherey. 

1966^^ A P ri l 1966 to fitienne BaUbar; Guy Besse, Letter of 14 May 
inteiio^. , nri Krasucki (responsible for the Party's relations with 

72 **«?S 4 x AWR 8 ' 5 < a - ^ ako ' RT ^' ni 

4 April 1966 to Pierre Macherey; 'Lettre au Comite central 


d'Argenteuil', 42-04.01 f.; [Benny Levy et aL], 'Faut-il reviser la th^. 
Marxiste^eniniste?', in Patrick Kessel, Le mouvement 'maoiste' en Fr^?* 
vol. 1, Paris, 1972, pp. 149-61; letter of 17 or 24 March 1966 to Pj^ 
Macherey, ^ 

73. 'SRC 5, 9; 'R', 9-05.02, p. 22. An unpublished draft of 'SRC coi^ 
the role of the 'vanguard party' to accomplishing the 'political revo? 
tion', leaving the ideological revolution to the masses themselves, m 
echo of the Chinese Communist Party's August 1966 'Sixteen-Po? 
Declaration' ('Sur la revolution culturelle', 7-01.03, p. 2). The publisfoJ 
version of 'SRC is more orthodox; see SRC 10. 

74. Letter of 9 March 1967 to Michel Verret. See also 'RTJL' 131-2. 

75. 'Entretien avec Waldeck Rochet', Annates 183-5; LF 667, 29 March 19^ 

76. Pierre Macherey, Letter of 28 November 1966 to fitienne Balibar 
Baiibar, Letter of 2 January 1967 to Macherey. 

77. Secretariat, 24 May 1966, p. 2; Bourseiiler, Les mao'istes, p. 60; Hervg 
Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Generation, Paris, 1987, vol. 1, p.2\% 
Balibar recalls being driven blindfolded to the meeting, but has 
no memory of delivering a formal message (Interview of 13 March 

78. fitienne Balibar, Letter of 24 November 1966 to Pierre Macherey. 

79. 'Expose devant le groupe "Esprit"' (5 May 1967), 8-03.07, p. 44; Letter 
of 14 August 1966 to Michel Verret; LF 693-4, 729, 26 July and 26 
September 1966. 

80. fitienne Balibar, letter of 24 November 1966 to Pierre Macherey; letters 
of 28 January and 7 February 1967 to Balibar; letter of 24 February 1967 
to Michel Verret, 

81. 'La conjoncture, 4 mai 1967', 11-03.01, pp. 2, 4, 7. 

82. 'SCR' 10; 'RTJL' 105; 'NSP' 318. 

83. 'OEYM' 160; 'ESC 102-3. 

84. 'R', 9-05.05, folder 2. 

85. Letter of 21 December 196(3] to Pierre Macherey. 

86. 'ESC 143-5. 

87 FM 188n, 208-10, 183; RC 108, 188-9. 

88, 'OTW' 61. 'Folding back' is an equivalent for repliemml ('Sur le travail 
theorique', La Pensee 132 [March-April 1967], p. 17). The word is #* 
translated in 'OTW' 

Jacques Lacan, 'La Science et la v£rit£', Cahiers pour {'analyse, no. j 
January 1966; letter of 11 [13?] July 1966 to Lacan, WP 171-2. Jj 
Althusser's letter reached its destination, its message did not: L*^ 
pointedly called his would-be ally a 'structuralist' in a November l*y 
lecture (Lacan, D'un Autre a I'autre, vol. 1 [Paris, 1969], pp. 11-12)- 
Lacano-Althusserian alliance ever came about. 

90. LF 699-700, 4 August 1966; letter of 4 August 1966 to Michel Tort. ^ 

91. Roger Establet, personal communication, 24 April 2000; Letters ^ 
August 1966 to Michel Tort and 6 September 1966 to Alain Badio u; 
724, 15 September 1966. 

92. 'MPH'20. , jj 

93. fitienne Balibar, 'Self-Criticism', trans, anon., Tfieoretical Practice 



60-61 Pierre Macherey, Letter of 10 May 1965 to Louis 

ccT' 129- 

94. '*&~ r tq February 1966 to Pierre Macherey, cited (and misdated) in 

95. Letter o nt Introduction to Pierre Macherey, In a Materialist Way, 
Warre ^ 9 g p 7. Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, trans. 
r°nffr"v Wall London, 1978 [1966], pp. 136-56. 

I £vi-Strauss', pp. 26-7, 30. The term 'singular essence' makes a 
96 C^ 1 a ppearance in the first edition of Lire le Capital, pp. 654-5 as 

U as in 0n L ^ vi - Strauss '' P 30 and LF 712 ' 13 September 1966. 

aTthusser deems it 'too dangerous' for public consumption in a 23 

October 1966 letter to Yves Duroux. 
a? 'The Philosophical Conjuncture', p. 13. 
or Diverses notes 1966, 11.02-01, p. 1; and, for a diagram of the relations 

very summarily sketched here, 11.02-02; 'The Historical Task', p. 214; 

IF 712, 13 September 1966. 
99 Alain Badiou, 'Le (re)commencement du matgriaiisme dialectique', 

Critique, 23, May 1967, p. 464. 

100. PSH27,76. 

101. PSH 107; Sur la reproduction, ed. Jacques Bidet, Paris, 1995, pp. 223-42 
('Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses', El 1-60, was extracted 
from this text, not yet translated into English); Letter of 21 February 
1969 to Ben Brewster, WP 32. 

102. David Macey, 'Thinking with Borrowed Concepts: Althusser and 
Lacan', in Althusser: A Critical Reader, ed. Gregory Elliott, Oxford, 1994, 
pp. 144, 147 

103. Letters of summer 1977 (WP 4-5) and 11 May 1984 to Gudrun Werner- 
Hervieu, in Werner-Hervieu, Begegnungen mit Louis Althusser, Berlin, 
1998, pp. 27-30. 

104. Most of the translations were published in Ludwig Feuerbach, Manifes- 
tes philosophiques: Textes choisis, 1839-1845, ed. and trans. Louis Althus- 
Ser ; Paris ' 196a Althusser's letters of 28 April 1966 and 17 April 1967 
to Etienne Balibar show that the book on The German Ideology was to be 

105 J°* authored with Balibar and, perhaps, Roger Establet. 

Letters of 18 February 1967 to fitienne Balibar and 21 June 1967 to 
Michel Verret; LF 749, 12 July 1967; Arnoldo Orfila Reynal, Letter of 19 
November 1966 to Louis Althusser; Althusser et al. f Polemica sobre 
1967^° * V humanismo > correspondence Althusser/ Mark Mitin, 

Ufr '? F " U f rbach '' PP 140-1. 

Feuerb h UVre SUr Feuerbach '- 35-01.01, p. 7 Althusser's work on the 
obvi^ i ! an ' mirror stage' is anterior to 'Three Notes', which is 

108. Z^ y based on {t 

St railV7i Uvi " Strauss ' la Pensie sauvage' ', 60-04, p. 17a; Claude L6vi- 
J 09 T P 8-ni rvT age Mind > Chicago, 1966 (1962), p. 247. 
10 THe S" '?■ 2; ,The Historical Task', p. 209. F 

ll " '<* US 31 T f sk ^ P- 192 ™* note. P 

Gauss', p. 22. The critique of the 'nostalgic' 'modern myth' 


of primitive society is developed in 'Une question pos£e au eout* 
s£nunaire du 10.1.1964 par Louis Althusser', 40-03. 04, p. 3. ^ 

111 FM 161. 

113. 'RT[L' 82; 'RSC 120. 

114. 'The Humanist Controversy', p. 252. 

ryu e philosophical Conjuncture and 
Marxist Theoretical Research 

(26 June 1966) 

Aithusser's archives contain two very different versions of the lecture 
'The Philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist Theoretical Research'. The 
one published here is taken from a mimeographed text that bears the 
notation lecture delivered at the tLcole normale suptrieure on 26 June 
1966' There are no handwritten modifications on this copy, which 
closely matches the lecture that Althusser actually gave, as is indicated 
by a tape-recording he kept in his files, (Also recorded was part of the 
often spirited discussion that followed Althusser's talk, notably an 
exchange with Jean-Pierre Vernant.) Several copies of the text of the 
lecture were found in Althusser's archives after his death. All indica- 
tions are that it circulated widely, that is, enjoyed semi-public status. 

The other extant version of 'The Philosophical Conjuncture' (eight 

typed pages, preceded by the handwritten words 'not delivered' and 

covered with handwritten emendations) is older, and shorter only 

ecause it was left unfinished. The substance of it has been incorporated 

the first two pages of the final version, the style of which is much 

ore concise. We saw no compelling reason to publish the whole of the 
prst version, 

Fran(ois Matheron 

The bo 6 T *° r two reasons: a bogus reason, and a real one. 
^ u ^tionh reaSOn is that someone has to start, after all. But that 
re ason il th S been settled ' because I've already started. The real 

1 owe I ° We y ° U certain explanations. 

j u certain explanations, quite simply, by way of 


response to a question we are all asking ourselves; it i s *, 
question of this meeting. Why this meeting? What have w 
French philosophers come here to do, in June 1966? What c»! 
and what will come of this meeting? 

If I'm to give you the explanations I owe you, I shall have f 
say things without beating about the bush, bluntly, perhaps ev te 
harshly - both to save time and also to eliminate all possib] 
confusions, ambiguities and lingering doubts. We all have an 
interest in calling a spade a spade. 1 

So: why this meeting? Let me tell you how it came about. I 
personally invited some of you. I invited certain philosophers of 
my acquaintance because I know that they are working in the 
field of Marxist theory. I also invited certain non-Marxist philos- 
ophers because I know that they take an interest in the work of 
Marxist scholars. Lastly, I put up a notice in the ficole [normak 
sup£rieure] announcing this meeting and indicating that it was 
open to the public. In the invitations and the notice, I said that 
the purpose of the meeting was to allow Marxist scholars to 
come together and bring each other up to date on their work, 
and also to take stock of the major theoretical questions that 
Marxist research has by all means to address. 

In deciding to call this meeting, in signing the invitations and 
the agenda, I was not acting on my own behalf, but neither did 
I make this decision on the suggestion of any authority. The 
decision was made for us by the effects of the theoretical 
conjuncture itself: it had become necessary. I drew the appropri- 
ate conclusions. And I would also suggest that we draw the 
appropriate conclusions as to the object of our meeting: to define 
this, it is enough analyse the structure of the theoretical 
conjuncture. 2 

1 am going to be extremely schematic. The most we can <* 
here is to set out, very roughly, the elements that make up ** 
basic structure of the theoretical conjuncture prevailing in ™ 
field that interests us, French philosophy and Marxist the " 

It seems to me that we can set out, very roughly, a x 
elements, and, at the same time, indicate the relations betw^ 
them. Basically, my analysis will bear on two areas: (a) * m 
philosophy and (b) Marxist theory. I shall be using the term 'Fre* 1 1 ^ 
philosophy' broadly, to include both philosophy in the 5 



A also disciplines still associated with it for historical 
^nse a n ^ ^ e sciences known as the 'human' sciences - 

reasons/ s y C hology/ and so on. I shall be using the term 
50C iology' ^ .^ t ^ e twofold sense of Marxist philosophy or 
^ afXJS - 1 materialism, and the Marxist science of history or 
( * ia ' eC 1 materialism. Hence the two areas that I shall analyse 
k* St °h matic terms will be distinguished, but will also overlap. 
in ^ distinctions and these intersections can serve us as perti- 
nent indices. 

A. French philosophy 

It seems to me that we can describe the theoretical structure of 
French philosophy in 1966 by setting out the following elements. 
We shall see that, in order to define them, we have to turn back 
to the past going a very long way back indeed. We shall 
therefore define these different elements and the relationship 
between them both as elements and, at the same time, as 
sedimented historical layers. What will be of the greatest interest 
to us is the relationship among these different elements today. 

1. At the very deepest level of the theoretical conjuncture of 
present-day French philosophy, we still find a persistent, sedi- 
mented layer whose origins can be traced back to the philosophy 
of the Middle Ages. Certain forms of medieval philosophy 
subsist in explicit and sometimes rigorous form in the contem- 
porary Thomist and Augustinian schools. In general, however, 
e philosophy of the Middle Ages does not survive in person 
_ ay: rather, it serves as the support for what can be called a 
r ? t&ous and spiritualist tradition that we will encounter again in 
ment, for this tradition was revived by another historical 
P^od of French philosophy. 

8°ine h ° n ^ s ^ e ^ e religious-spiritualist element, with a heritage 
nie Q if st . ck ' in Part to the Middle Ages, there is a rationalist- 
^ e the ement diving from Descartes which also features in 
^own r etiCal - COn,Uncture of French philosophy. As is well 
different • esian philosophy has served as the basis for two 
Q ksm 0ri ,l er P reta tions, the interpretation of mechanistic materi- 
e °ne hand and that of critical idealism on the other. 


As in the previous case, we are dealing here not with Desc^ 
in person but with philosophies that have taken up and de v ^ 
oped his thought, interpreting it in a particular direction ^ 
thus giving it a particular bent 

The Cartesian machinery is still flourishing today in 
whole sector of the human sciences, first and foremost exp^ 
mental psychology, and also empirical sociology. Critical icfe^ 
ism of narrowly Cartesian - that is, dualistic - inspiration w^ 
incarnated in Alain's philosophy; today it is dying a natmy 
death. However, a form of critical idealism of broadly Cartes*^ 
inspiration was taken up and developed by Kant and Husserl, \\ 
is very much alive today, and currently constitutes what ^ 
doubtless the dominant element in the theoretical conjuncture of 
French philosophy. 

3. Alongside these two elements - religious-spiritualist and 
rationalist-idealist - there subsists another element, another theo- 
retical layer, whose origins may be traced back to the eighteenth 
century: rationalist empiricism in its two forms, idealist and mate- 
rialist. Materialist rationalist empiricism lives on in the ideology 
of certain scientific practices (psycho-physiology, etc)- Idealist- 
rationalist empiricism does too, and has produced the more 
interesting results. It was this current which, setting out from 
other, materialist aspects of Descartes's work, spawned the great 
work of the Encyclopedie , d'Alembert, Diderot, and so oa This 
tradition was taken up by the only great French philosopher of 
the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte. It saved the honour of 
French philosophy, if one may use a term from the sports world 
here, during the terrible spiritualist reaction of the nineteenth 
century. It has given us the only philosophical tradition that we 
can trace, almost uninterruptedly, from the seventeenth century 
down to our own day: the tradition of the philosophy of * e 
sciences to which we owe such great names as Comte, Courn* 
Couturat, Duhem, and, closer to our own time, Cavailtes, Bad*" 
elard, Koyr6, and Canguilhem. 

4. After setting out these elements, in the perspective arisirtj 
from their very historical distance from us, we can now teg* 1 
approach our own period. Let us, then, say something ^ oXxt \, 
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Philosophically sp* 
ing, this period is massively dominated by a profound p^ 


reaction, that is, a profoundly reactionary philosophy. 
* ophl vf ine de Biran to Bergson, we can compile, to our dismay, 
prom *^ a * < names: Victor Cousin, Ravaisson, Boutroux, Lache- 
a long ** | t j ie ^ r e pigones. This tradition is defined by its 
lien an ciOU s theoretical crusade against all forms of ration- 
v irul^ n / ^ ^^ materialist. It is this tradition that takes up - in 
aliSm hich, moreover, shows only contempt for the authenti- 
a ^theoretical aspects of medieval thought - the religious 
% lism preserved for us by the Church, its theologians and 
*P irt .> ioeues. This nineteenth-century philosophical spiritual- 
ltS was so narrow-minded that it twisted the idealist Cartesian 
lS dition in a frankly spiritualist direction, and quite simply 
• red a philosopher like Kant; the only one of Kant's works it 
familiarized itself with - and belatedly, at that - was the Critique 
f Practical Reason. Suffice it to say that Bergson, for example, 
never really took the trouble to read Kant, and in any event, did 
not understand anything of what he read. This spiritualism 
compromised the tradition of the philosophy of the sciences in 
apologetic works such as Boutroux's and Lachelier's. It fought, 
unremittingly, a battle to the death with the one great philos- 
opher of the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte, and, as can be 
seen in the work of P6guy and Bergson, also relentlessly attacked 
a very great mind, Emile Durkheim, who was, moreover, a 
disciple of Comte. There is no need to add that these pseudo- 
philosophers, who did not even take the trouble to read Des- 
cartes seriously, scorned the philosophy of the eighteenth 
century, and knew neither Kant nor Hegel (remember Cousin's 
on mot[ )> while regaling themselves on the scraps of Schelling 
and Schopenhauer that served them in place of thoughts - there 
s no need to add that the ignorance, scorn and hatred of these 
and" Pf li,oso Ph ers > veritable watchdogs of religious ideology 
reactionary political ideology, was extended to the work of 
still h ° nce !t ^ ac * acquired objective existence. Our existence is 
thi s i ^ ^ ^ e e ^ ects °f these sweeping condemnations and 
of an k nCe ' which " albeit explicable for class reasons - are 
c °ndem n *j aral:)le stu pidity. Many were those who were thus 
b W So t0 Philosophical death, covered with insults and 

cu rrent f° VeTe . d ° Ver with the earth of forgetful 1165 ^ the whole 

C °Urnot A Ut0pian Philosophy, notably Fourier and Saint-Simon; 

' Au guste Comte, Nietzsche, Freud and Durkheim; and, 


of course, Marx. We should also be aware that these philosonu. 
cal auto-da-fes were celebrated to religious and moralistic chaj» 
ing, or, once religion had become a little too embarrassing / 
the chants of the secular religion of modern times, the religjj/ 
of art. 

We should be aware of all of this, because this reaction^ 
spiritualist philosophy still weighs heavy on us today, and %\1 
because our task is to struggle against it and rehabilitate fa 
victims. It is the conjuncture that sets even our philosophic 
tasks for us, and identifies them as necessary. Thus I inclu<j e 
among these tasks, along with the struggle against spiritualism 
in all its forms - particularly religious ideology and the ideology 
of art, and all the aesthetic treatises it has spawned in our 
country - the task of philosophically rehabilitating Saint-Simon 
Fourier, Auguste Comte, Cournot, Durkheim, and others. 

5. The fact that philosophical spiritualism massively domi- 
nates our recent heritage accounts for the present philosophical 
conjuncture. For certain things have happened, after all, since 
Maine de Biran and Victor Cousin, and even Lachelier and 
Bergson. A number of minor historical events have occurred, 
known as the Revolution of 1848, the Commune, World War I, 
the 1917 Revolution, the rise of Fascism, the Popular Fronts, the 
Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Resistance, the defeat of 
Hitler, the Chinese Revolution, the liberation of the Third World 
and so on. A few events that have somewhat unsettled the world 
of religious, moral, aesthetic, chauvinistic and, quite simply/ 
ignorant and inane spiritualism bequeathed us by the nineteenth 
century. Starting thirty years ago, after Alain's timid Cartesian- 
Radical-Socialist reaction and the half-baked beginning made by 
Brunschvicg, who sought to bend the tradition of the history °* 
the sciences to the service of a supposedly rationalist religi oUS 
ideology, something has begun to happen in French philosophy' 
and the balance of power has begun, hesitantly, to swing B 1 
other way. 

It is still in the process of swinging the other way; the vvof 
of history is still in gestation, before our very eyes. I would li* 
to try to sketch the features and also the moments of the pres 6 

I will distinguish two essential moments. 

peturn - oUS readings of these authors, and studies and 

Husser , es on them. We can draw a fairly complete map of 
'Philosophical Front, which I shall call Front number I, and 

f„riP<; on them. We can draw a fairly complete map of 


„ VhP spiritualists who are still carrying on the good fight, 
name ui c J r_ TT , T , . , , ^ 


sav that w # first moment, whose effects are there for 

yj e &*- pjritualism had to give ground under the pressure of 

a ll to see, F^ p renc j 1 philosophy: to be very precise, under the 

a renewa ^ m0Vem ent inspired by critical rationalist idealism. 

pressure p eSCarteS/ return to Kant, discovery of Hegel and 



.."te f 
isec l as old Descartes or Husserl, Heidegger and Freud, 

t rpreted in their fashion (unfortunately, this is the direction 
! n w hj c h Merleau-Ponty was increasingly tending, and in which 
Ricoeur has frankly struck out). But we can also mention the 
critical rationalist idealists on this Front who have forced the 
enemv to retreat: besides the Marxist philosophers who, like 
Politzer, Mougin 3 and others, played their part in this battle, we 
can name Sartre, our Rousseau, a man of the eighteenth century, 
more of a moralist and political thinker than a philosopher, and 
yet a rationalist idealist; we can name Jean Hyppolite, thanks to 
whom French philosophy has recognized the importance of 
Hegel and Husserl; Gu£roult, a master at teaching the basics of 
how truly to read texts; and others as well. And we can single 
out a few great names among them: Cavaill£s, Bachelard, Koyr6, 
Canguilhem, and others, epistemologists and historians of the 
sciences, with the small yet very important reservation that they 
often consciously associated themselves with the tradition of 
critical idealism, even if much of their work actually tends in a 
totally different direction. Such, then, is the first moment of the 

ansformation of the conjuncture, a transformation that has 

asically been accomplished: the retreat of spiritualism under 

c J° mt P ressure an d combined blows of rationalist idealism or 

Tod ldealism and Marxism > on Front number 1. 
s a ^' no doubt, we are living through a second moment. To 
I s ^ * x ent ' ^is moment exists only in a latent state: the element 
obvi ?° ° n t0 discuss is st iH defining itself, and there can 
The id r n ° c l ues ti on of suggesting that it is at all dominant. 
there [ s element ' rationalist or critical, is still dominant. Yet 
ta ken i f 3t ' eaSt/ somethin g new in *e making that has to be 
^ ec ^use accoun t - something which is of great interest to us, 
e ' too, are playing a certain role in it. 


What is in the making is the discovery that the problem^ 
critical, rationalist idealism no longer answers to the prof 0l J*j 
needs of the theoretical conjuncture: the crisis of critical, ration^ 
idealism has now begun. It has begun, but it has not yet b^ 
resolved. Whence a profusion of attempts to seek out new path*, 
whence the presence of philosophy everywhere, and a recc*/ 
nition of philosophy's leading role in the attempts at renewal 
springing up left and right, in literary criticism, the novel 
cinema, painting, ethnology, the history of knowledge, the hj^ 
tory of cultural formations, and so on, generally under L^ 
Strauss's aegis but also under Bachelard's. Philosophies of this 
and that are now shooting up like mushrooms, overnight, in all 
the private gardens of official culture, and preventing even 
academic worthies like Picard 4 from cultivating their gardens - 
that is, their rubbish [navet, which literally means turnip] - ft 
peace. What interests us is not the mushrooms - after all, most 
of them aren't even edible - what interests us is the terrain. 

If we leave aside the manifestations of typically Parisian 
culture and the culture of the 'Parisian Internationale' in order 
to discuss what is taking place at the properly philosophical level 
we can plainly perceive a situation of objective crisis. Gu^roult 
taught us how to read, but he too often commits the 'blunder' of 
taking the disorder of reasons for the 'order of reasons'. 5 Mer- 
leau-Ponty went over to spiritualism. Sartre is alive and kicking, 
combative and generous, but he does not teach us anything 
about anything, especially not the authors and subjects he dis- 
cusses: Marx, Freud, sociology, politics, and so on. Sartre will 
not have any posterity whatsoever: he is already philosophically 
dead, although he may suddenly be born again, as we hope he 
will The truly vital work that is now being done is being done 
elsewhere - around Marx, Freud, and also Nietzsche; aroun 
Russell, Frege and Heidegger; around linguistics, epistemol°S> 
and the history of the sciences. What is truly vital in what 
under way is challenging, profoundly, the theoretical problem* 
not only of spiritualism (Front number 1), but also, on F r 
number 2, of critical rationalist idealism. By the same token/ * 
challenging the ideological problematic of the 'human' science 5 ' 
they are called. ^ 

We can provide a fairly accurate measure of the revolution * 
theoretical import of this nascent renewal by gauging the e* 



iloso"* 1 

• h the critical-idealist problematic has been challenged, 
t0 whic .^g ^ direction the challenge is taking. This 
and aU thorizes diagnoses that are independent of mere 

cri ten sUCC ess. Thus we can already say that L£vi-Strauss, his 
c ultura ^ c mer its notwithstanding, will not, philosophically 
g rea . pi a y a role commensurate with the highly suspect 
s P ea ^ e has been accorded; whereas other authors - well 
SUC less well known or unknown - already hold, and in 

cases have long held, keys, or, at least, some of the keys to 
S ° future (I have in mind the real Bachelard, Canguilhem, the 
l Lacan, etc.)- But enough of these questions of individuals, 
rather, of the variations of individual structural effects pro- 
duced by the theoretical conjuncture. 

At all events, it is in the context of this second moment that 
the Marxist philosophical enterprise can take its place - indeed, 
has already begun to take its place. As we conceive it, Marxist 
philosophy naturally has a part to play in the anti-spiritualist 
struggle on Front number 1, side by side with the critical 
rationalist philosophies; but it also struggles on Front number 2, 
the anti-critical-idealist Front, against the problematic of critical, 
rationalist idealism and for a new materialist problematic. There 
can be no doubt that this struggles poses strategic and tactical 
problems, especially the problem of alliances in the theoretical 
and ideological struggle. We make no bones about this. We 
know, and our friends do too, that the problems are rather 
simple on a Front as sharply defined as the anti-spiritualist or 
anti-irrationalist Front number 1. We do not hide the fact, from 
ourselves or from others, that these problems are much more 
difficult on the anti-critical-idealist Front, Front number 2, 
ecause it is a Front which is still confused and sometimes ill- 
6d, so that we have to take into consideration not only the 
Pa • ^ eve 'opment of the philosophical situation, fashionable 
tion lan ic * eolo 8 ica l by-products included, but also the hesita- 
i n v, nc * ex perimentation of all the actors, carefully distinguish- 
f rom , ac tions that represent real commitments on their part 
identitv 0S€ ^ w hich they simply continue to search for their 
Cr iteria Ur n °n-Marxist friends should be aware that these 
to take hT^ scru P^ es a PPty to us as well, and that we are striving 
But em into acc ount for our own internal use. 

saying all that, I have just defined new objectives for 


us Marxist philosophers: to have it out not only with Merle 
Ponty and Ricoeur (Front number 1), but also with Sartre a^ 
Gu£roult (Front number 2), and to try to gain as clear a sensT^ 
possible of the work of those who, like us, albeit sometimes 
very different ways, seek [to] challenge the critical-idealist p ro ? 
lematic that we are struggling against on Front number 2. fru. 
the stout of heart, then, there is a long list of pressing tasks in 

In saying all that, I have also just indicated some of the urgem 
tasks facing Marxist philosophy, which must make a thorough 
critique of the empiricist, formalist and idealist ideology that 
holds sway in most of the human sciences; distinguish, in the 
field of the human sciences, between the real objects and the 
imaginary ones; and identify our objective allies, the specialists 
who are in reality fighting alongside us - either because their 
practice corresponds to a real object, as in sociology and linguis- 
tics; or because they derive from their practice concepts that can 
contribute to the philosophical transformation currently in pro- 
gress; or, again, because they have already taken their place on 
the two Fronts of the philosophical struggle. 

B. Marxist Theory 

But, in saying all that, 1 have in effect already broached the 
question as to which elements of the conjuncture are pertinent 
to Marxist theory. As I have already written quite a few pages 
explaining my views on the matter, 1 shall be more concise, but, 
at the same time, much more explicit and precise. 

The basic task of Marxist theory, its strategic task, has Marxist 
theory itself for its object. I mean, to be quite precise, that Marxist 
theory has to know exactly what it is as a theory, and to know 
exactly what point it has reached in its development, in order to 
know what kind of theoretical work it must and can accomplish- 

This task is not exactly an easy one, a simple matter oi 
definition. Or, more exactly, defining the specificity of Marxist 
theory as rigorously as we can today, in 1966, is an undertaking 
that can be carried out only in struggle and through struggle 
There can be no defining Marxist theory in the absence of a 
struggle against ideological interpretations of Marxist theory " 



the misinterpretations, distortions, prejudices and 
jiot ot ^y r ]yi ar xism that reign outside the Marxist context, but 
i^nor^ . sinter pretations, ideological distortions, and so on, 
a \$o tn e ifain [^ nationally and internationally. We, too, have 
that reig jj sts _ to be quite precise, our ideologues of the 
° ur • of nian by man, who define man in terms of his 
crea l ' usness of the future, and interpret Marxism as a human- 
C ° nS We too, have our critical or rationalist idealists and our 
Sm Iv Kantian or Husserlian ideologues of transcendental 
s it sometimes even happens that the spiritualists and 
?. .jg ts i en d one another, as circumstances dictate, the concepts 
, need. We, too, have our rationalist empiricists (who are 
often, incidentally, also humanists), especially in the ranks of the 
psychologists, psychiatrists, and so on. We, too, have our parti- 
sans of mechanistic materialism, monism, and economism, in all 
fields, not just in political economy. It is impossible to define 
Marxist theory with any precision if we do not wage a rigorous 
critical struggle, in both senses of the word 'rigorous', against all 
these ideological distortions of Marxism. The struggle has to be 
waged on the anti-ideological Front (anti-spiritualist and anti- 
critical-idealist, anti-mechanistic, anti-economistic, anti-volunta- 
rist, etc.), which means that we have to study these ideological 
distortions at the same time as we undertake to define Marxist 
theory. We will therefore constantly find ourselves writing texts 
in two columns; if, in what follows, I say nothing about column 
2 (works of anti-ideological criticism) and speak only about the 
first column (works of definition and positive research), I would 
ask that the existence of the second column be kept constantly in 
nund. It, too, requires its specialists. 

J he number one task consists, then, in defining Marxist theory. 
nis means, above all, distinguishing the Marxist science of 

ory or historical materialism, which is a science, from Marxist 
P osophy or dialectical materialism, which is a philosophy. It 
re anS ^ e ^ n ^g the specific object of each discipline and the 
and / status °f eac h °f ^ e two disciplines; defining, first 
, ° rem ost, that which makes Marxist philosophy a philos- 

y and not a science in the strict sense, albeit a philosophy of 

J^ntific character. 6 
Let m 
differ ■ n ° te strai S^ t away that this last point - that is, the 
Ke m theoretical status which distinguishes Marxist philos- 


ophy from Marxist science - was in fact evaded in my publi S k 
works. I distinguished the Marxist science of history from Kfo 
ist philosophy solely with regard to the difference in their obj^ 
without bringing out, as I should have, the difference in y/*[ 
theoretical status. Among the important questions that need tok* 
examined, therefore, I include the question of the specific cliffy 
ence in theoretical status between Marxist science and MarxjJ 

Naturally, this question could open the door to a long shin* 
of related developments and questions, but I cannot go ^ 
them here. 

Once we have defined the Marxist science of history aiuj 
Marxist philosophy, once we have defined the difference in their 
objects and theoretical status, we can broach two important 
subjects: the theoretical work to be done in the field of Marxist 
philosophy on the one hand and the Marxist science of histoiy 
on the other. I shall use the traditional terms: in the fields of 
dialectical and historical materialism. 

Let me say right away that my aim is not to provide an 
exhaustive list of possible questions: there are an infinite number 
of them. 1 would merely like to note the major questions that In 
fact occupy a strategic theoretical position in the development of 
Marxist theory today. 

1. In the field of dialectical materialism 

Strategic questions: I will provide a list of these questions and 
comment on some of them. 

Strategic question number 1: The difference in theoretical statu* 
between Marxist science and Marxist philosophy. 

Strategic question number 2: The theory of structural causality 
Experience has shown that this question commands everything 
else - if not at the primary, then at the secondary level [en secotwf 
instance, sinon en premiere]. It commands the theory of practice & 
general, and thus the theory of theoretical practice itself. It c&F 
mands the general theory of practice and, at the same time, ™ 
theory of the dialectic (including the theory of the tradition)- 7 ^ 
this question, we have more and more elements that stand & s ** 
many signs of its decisive importance, but the more of then* ^ 


, more closely we home in on the question, the more 
^ 3I u t appears. What was said on the subject in Reading 
jifficu j te rudimentary; but we have at least identified the 

^nn and called it, I hope, by the right name, 
question ^ 

eic question number 3: The theory of theoretical practice, 
• of the practice productive of knowledge [connaissances]. 
too I draw attention to a point that was - I am to blame 
this - evaded in the published works. There, the question of 
h retical practice was posed much more than it was resolved, 
a jt was posed, as is always the case (reflection and research 
oeress in no other way), both to bring out certain features that 
had been only poorly distinguished in the past, and to combat 
ideological interpretations. In the published works, it was a matter 
of combating, above all, an empiricist and pragmatist conception of 
Marxist theory. This explains the fact that the accent fell, as they 
say, on the specificity of theoretical practice. This ideological 
opposition, which is, I think, basically correct [juste], induced an 
effect of elision: I failed to deal with an extremely important 
question, which we can provisionally term 'the question of empiri- 
cal knowledge' Lenin, for example, says that the soul of Marxism 
is 'the concrete analysis of a concrete situation' I did not produce 
the theory of this formulation, or even outline such a theory. I 
do not say that what I wrote makes it impossible to produce it: 
but the absence of the theory of empirical knowledge generates, 
like all absences, effects of distortion and displacement even in 
what is present, that is, in what was said. One can state this 
differently by saying that putting the accent squarely on the 
specificity of theory and theoretical practice resulted in a few 
oubling) silences, or even ambiguities, in what was written. Let 
e sa y ri ght away that this elision was not without conse- 
w n? CeS ^ e ma * n consequence was to put us at daggers drawn 
th historians and especially the sociologists, who spend 

nie and their lives - at any rate, a good part of their time 
disc Ucin 8 empirical knowledge. The upshot was Homeric 
gist S10 . ns w ^h our friends among the historians and sociolo- 
of ~ lrect discussions or discussions pursued in the absence 
asso C ' erlocutor s, that is to say, via third parties and the 
en ou&h rum °urs. While these friends have been charitable 
8 to sa y nothing about this in public to date, that hardly 


means they have no objections to raised They are right abn, 
this elision. I am currently trying to make up for this deficits 
in a text that will, I hope, see the light some day. 9 ^ 

On the question of the theory of theoretical practice, reseat 
is already in progress. 10 

Strategic question number 4: This question is bound up wju 
the preceding one, but I believe that we are well advised to treat 
them separately. I have in mind a theory of the knowledge-eft^ 
Such a theory presupposes a general theory of discourse and a 
distinction between the specific types of discourses that woul<j 
bring out the characteristic features of scientific discourse. Q^ 
this problem, too, researchers are already at work; some of them 
have been working for quite some time. 

Strategic question number 5: The theory of ideology. On this 
point as well, what was said in the published works is important, 
but marked by the struggle against empiricism and pragmatism. 
Whence possible silences and distortions. It is necessary, first, to 
undertake to produce a general theory of ideology, and, to this end, 
to note that it is possible to identify something as ideology only 
retrospectively, from the vantage point of non-ideological 
knowledge. One must also note that the science-ideology 
relationship constitutes a field of variations, marked off by two 
limit-positions (that of science on the one hand and ideology on 
the other), a vector field orientated by the retrospection I have just 
mentioned. Finally, it has to be noted that this field is itself one 
moment (in constant transformation) of a process, and that it is 
this process which defines the existence and nature of the field. 

One could conjointly pursue other studies bearing on ideologjt 
its place or places of implantation in the social structure, and also 
on the different regions of ideology. Work is in progress he# 

Strategic question number 6: The theory of a particular struc* 
tural effect: what we might call the subjectivity-effect or theory o* 
the subject. This is a problem of great consequence, but it ^ 
extremely difficult; some of us have already done some work ° n 
it. 11 

Strategic question number 7: The theory of individuaW' 
which is indispensable for developing, in historical material^ 111 ' 


f the historical forms of individuality (including not 
^e theory o ^j ems f what is ordinarily called the individual, 
ordy derable number of other problems as well, first and 

but a con . t heory of the social formation), 
foremost w 

are many other questions; I have mentioned only those 

^h seemed to me to be the most important. 

2. In historical materialism 

again, I shall give a list of questions that seem to me to be 
f strategic importance from a theoretical standpoint 

Strategic question number 1: A systematic definition of the 
currently available, tried-and-tested concepts of the general the- 
or y\i f historical materialism. 

Strategic question number 2: The theory of social classes and 
political parties. 

Strategic question number 3: The theory of the legal-political 
superstructure (theory of law, theory of state power, theory of 
the state apparatus). 

Strategic question number 4: The theory of political practice. 

Strategic question number 5: The theory of transitional forms. 

Strategic question number 6: The theory of the forms of 
historical individuality (including the social formation). 

Here again, countless questions need to be addressed, but we 

have to limit ourselves. Be it noted that the questions we have to 

Pose in historical materialism are infinitely better defined than 

0s e in dialectical materialism; we have many more elements 

theoretical and practical experiences on the basis of which 

pose them. This is one effect of the theoretical lead that 

0r ical materialism has over dialectical materialism. 


In closin T 

p e . . m & 1 would like to mention a few questions that are 
en t to the history of the historians, whether they are histori- 


ans of philosophy, ideology, politics or the economy. T^w 
questions are questions that have to be treated historically/ 
certain theoretical problems are to be posed and solved; at fk! 
same time, they are questions that can be treated historical) 
only if certain theoretical concepts are developed. I believe * 
would be useful to turn this circle to our advantage, regarding f 
not as an impasse but as the condition for joint progress i* 
empirical history and in theory. 
These questions are: 

1. A theoretical and political history of the Second Inter- 
national, in broad outline. 

2. A history of the Third International, in broad outline. 

3. The personality cult 13 (a typical example of an empirical 
impasse due to the lack of a theory of politics and transit 
tional forms). 

4. Imperialism, 14 and so on. 

To conclude, I shall return to my point of departure. I owed you 
explanations. I was about to say that I have given them to you. 
In fact, it is the analysis of the structure of the theoretical 
conjuncture that has given them to us, 

I submit this analysis and its conclusions to you for 


1. In the first draft of the text, the first three paragraphs differ considerably 

My dear friends, you are as familiar as I am with the profound and* 
incidentally, apocryphal aphorism in which Machiavelli defines the uni- 
versal Law that governs men: what goes without saying goes even bettej 
unsaid [ce qui va sans dire va encore mieux en ne le disant pas; the second 
part of the saying usually runs 'va encore mieux en le disant', 'goes even 
better if it is said']. 

This aphorism states a principle that informs not only official meeting 5 
and the thoughts we keep to ourselves in everyday encounters, but a^J 
classical philosophy and the classical dialectic. As our encounter ha£ *~ 
the marks of an official meeting, as we are all keeping certain thought 
ourselves, if only because we are wondering what thoughts our nel ^> 
bours are keeping to themselves, and as we are about to talk ab° 
philosophy, I propose that we apply Machiavelli's law in order to abol^ 
its effects. 

araoh condenses in a few lines a passage developed at length 

move on to another kind of presentation, which will acquaint us 

n h the object of our meeting. For we are to some extent in the position 

**( oole who have been invited to a play that nobody has seen or talked 

k t vet; they have a vague notion of its title but no idea of what it is 

\out, ^d do not even know who the author is. 

3 We will attend to the question of the author first. This play is a play 
thout an author. If we are here, it is as the effects of a theoretical 

juncture. j^ e p ers0 n who is addressing you is, like all the rest of us, 
erely a particular structural effect of this conjuncture, an effect that, like 
each and every one of us, has a proper name. The theoretical conjuncture 
that dominates us has produced an Althusser-effect, as it has produced a 
Ranciere-effect, a Balibar-effect, a Macherey-effect, an Establet-effect, a 
Bettelheim -effect, and so on. Of course, this effect exhibits variations: thus 
the Vernant-effect and the Althusser-effect do not coincide - which means 
that we have serious philosophical differences of opinion. Without wish- 
ing to presume on their personal motivations in any way, I would even 
hazard the statement that our philosophical friends who are not Marxists 
but take an interest in Marxism also feature here as effects of the 
theoretical conjuncture, each in a particular form, though in a form 
different from that of the Marxist philosophers 1 have just named. My 
friend Jacques Derrida will not take it amiss, I hope, when I say that if he 
is here today, it is not only out of friendship and philosophical indul- 
gence, but also as a structural effect of the philosophical conjuncture. 
There is therefore also a Derrida-effect. 

I am not joking when 1 say that the play performed here is a play 
without an author, and that we are all particular structural effects of the 
conjuncture. It is the philosophical conjuncture which brings us together 
here, and provides our meeting with its object. No one should be 
surprised if, in order to provide a precise definition of the object of our 
meeting, I dwell on the conjuncture. Here, too, I should like to try to say 
what naturally goes without saying, and lend my voice to an analysis of 
the philosophical conjuncture that dominates us. 

Henri Mougin is the author of La Sainte Famille existentialiste (Paris, 
y), among other works. Althusser may be thinking of Mougin's 
/ p ^ es P rit encyclopedique et la tradition philosophique franchise', 
4 §L p *' nos 5 ' 6 ' and 7 , October 1945-April 1946. 

Raymond Picard, Nouvelle critique, nouvelk imposture, Paris, 1965, a 
BarivT 10 ' directed against the French New Criticism, especially Roland 
(CrT** S Swr R * c,n *- ^ 1%6 ' Ba rthes riposted with Critique et verite 
X987) CISW md Tmth ' trans * Katrine R Keuneman, Minneapolis, MN, 

lQsa o S10n to Martial Guenxilt, Descartes selon Vordre des raisons, Paris, 
6. <p£ 1( ^* FM 69. 

Althu ' ^ °^ a sc * en tifi c character' is a transitional formula that reflects 
^' ^ r obah| er S COnce P non of philosophy at this stage in his thinking. 
Dl y an error for 'the transition' [Trans.]. 


8. Here Althusser is probably thinking of Jean-Pierre Vernant and pi 
Vilar in particular. Vernant attended Althusser's lecture and took i^*** 

ensuing discussion. Vilar later published an essay* 
which Althusser began to write a response): 'Hic^?^ 

with it in the ensuing discussion. Vilar later published an essay* 

a response): 'Hist ? 
marxiste, histoire en construction', Annates ESC, 1, January-Febru 

Althusser (to which Althusser beg. 

1973, partially translated as 'Marxist History, a History in the MakijyJ 
trans, anon., in Gregory Elliott, ed., Althusser: A Critical Reader, Oxf a 
1994, pp. 10-43. " 

9. Althusser is no doubt thinking of his projected book on the union rrf 
theory and practice (1966-67), which he ultimately abandoned. 

10. See NSP' 

11. See especially 'Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses' below. 

12. On the concept of 'general theory', see ibid. 

13. In 1964, Althusser began working on a book he planned to call How to 
Pose the Problem of the Cult. The first three chapters are extant. This text 
is closely related to an untitled book which undertakes a critical analysis 
of theories of alienation. That book, too, was left unfinished. 

14. In 1973, Althusser began working on a book on imperialism; he 
intended, in particular, to refute the theory of 'monopoly state capital- 
ism' which then held sway in the French Communist Party, and also to 
criticize the notion of a 'socialist mode of production'. 

On Levi-Strauss 

(20 August 1966) 

Only one version of the text Althusser entitled 'On Uvi-Strauss' 
exists. It was typed by a secretary at the tcole normale sup&rieure, 
probably from a letter whose salutation and closing signature were 
dropped. Althusser's archives contain many mimeographed copies of 
this text, which seems to have been rather widely distributed. Thus 
Emmanuel Terr ay acknowledges receipt of a copy in a 12 January 1967 
letter to Althusser in which he comments on the text at length, and 
announces that he plans to put it on the syllabus of his seminars at the 
University of Abidjan, where he was then teaching. In a letter dated 13 
March 1968, Althusser asks Alain Badiou what he thinks ofTerray's 
proposal to include this text in an appendix to Terrays book Le 
Marxisme devant les soci£t£s 'primitives', which ultimately 
appeared without it in the series, J Theorie', that Althusser edited for 
Francois Maspero's publishing house. Badiou s response, if there was 
°ne, lias not been found. 

Frangois Matheron 


question of L£vi~Strauss and structuralism is of the utmost 
ti,vf ° rtance toda y, and will continue to be important for a long 

add?e 1CaUy ' ^ criticism that l would address (* at l do in fact 
e Pie t0 ^ vi '^ trauss (there's no point in talking about his 
Wo j^ nes ' because he is partially responsible for them - in other 
epi Ko S ' there are certain things in L6vi-Strauss that authorize his 
15 ne s to utter and write inanities) is the fact that he claims to 


draw his inspiration from Marx, but doesn't know him (not orth, 
doesn't know him, but thinks he does, and so declares that thj 
or that thesis of his is Marxist, and that his ultimate aim is t n 
produce a theory of ideologies). 1 Since that is his ambition, we ir^ v 
examine his qualifications for the task; it is, at least on a fi^ 
approach, legitimate to examine L6vi-Strauss in relation to Marx 

In speaking of L£vi-Strauss's misunderstanding of Marx, I ^ 
stating my basic criticism of him here in deliberately limited 
fashion. But you 2 will see that I could (and shall) make the same 
criticism without mentioning Marx. In other words, I criticize hin\ 
not because his thought fails to conform to that of an individual 
however great that individual might be, but, in the final analysis 
because it fails to attain its object (which can be defined altogether 
independently of Marx). Thus I merely utilize Marx as a refer- 
ence point and guidepost in order to situate a criticism that can 
be formulated altogether independently of Marx. So don't be 
misled by the form my criticism takes. 

Very schematically, to adopt the terms L£vi-Strauss uses when 
he calls himself a Marxist and claims to be producing a theory of 
ideology (he sometimes stretches the term to take in the 'super- 
structure' or 'superstructures' in general), I would say that L6vi- 
Strauss's thought is 

1 . formal; and 

2. misses its object; 

3. which means that there is a serious defect in the formalism 
of his thought. 

These are necessary distinctions, because I would not for a 
moment consider criticizing anyone's thinking for being formal 
or, more precisely, for bearing on forms and seeking to formalize, 
as fully as possible, the concepts in which it thinks those forms- 
Any body of thought qualifying as knowledge thinks in terms of 
forms, that is, relationships which combine determinate elements. 
If Marx ranked Aristotle as high as he tells us he does in Capital 
it is because Aristotle is the thinker of forms par excellence, and o* 
form in general. Marx, too, repeatedly called himself a think 6 * 
and 'developer' (a barbarism, but I'm taking short cuts) oifoT*&' 
And nothing prevents the thought of forms (which is scientific- 
thought itself) from rising one level higher than that of the ioftf^ 
it brings to light, and thinking the (theoretical) form of existent 

on l£vi-strauss 21 

bination, of these forms: it is then that thought becomes 
of c ° ..-j n g thought, and rightly so. There are not only partial 
f oflTl r za tions in Capital, but also all the prerequisites for a 
^ 0ltn lized theory of modes of production in general, together 
^ oXV y 11 fa e \x internal forms of articulation (on this crucial point, 
W1 Balibar's text in Reading [Capital] II, a text of the greatest 
rtance). Don't be misled on this point either. I'm not criticiz- 
i £vi-Strauss for formalism in general, but for the wrong kind 

rf formalism. 

That said, let us go into detail. 

L£vi-Strauss hasn't the slightest idea what a mode of production 
s He is unfamiliar with Marx's thought. The first result of this 
ignorance is that he conceives the 'primitive societies' he deals 
with (and practically, or in any case originally, he deals only with 
them - 'originally' means that when he talks about non-primitive 
societies, all he does is transfer to non-primitive societies the 
categories and results of his work on primitive societies, that 
much is plain) - the first result of this ignorance is that he 
conceives the phenomena of the 'primitive societies' he deals 
with in the basic, classical categories of ethnology, without 
criticizing those categories. The fundamental source of ethnologi- 
cal prejudices, and thus of ethnological ideology, consists, basi- 
cally, in the belief that 'primitive 7 societies are of a very special 
sort that sets them apart from others and prevents us from 
applying to them the categories, particularly the Marxist categor- 
ies, in which we can think the others. Basically, in the ethnologi- 
cal ideology of 'primitive societies', we find, besides this notion 
°t the irreducible specificity of the nature of these societies and 

e Phenomena peculiar to them, the notion that they are primi- 
, We not only in a relative, but also in an absolute sense: in 
pnmitive society', the word primitive always more or less means 

or the ethnological ideologue and for L6vi-Strauss as well (see 
jutes tropiques and his lecture at the College [de France]) 3 - 

a wry. N t only are primitive societies primitive, they are also 
a Jp n if I ^ : *^ e y c °ntain the truth in empirical, perceptible form, 
Co *" a * is masked and alienated today, in our non-primitive, 

(lev q*' c ^ v ^^ 2ec ^' etc -/ societies. This is Rousseau's old myth 

R 0u trau ss often refers to it, taking only this myth from 

R 0u au ' ^though there are so many other things of genius in 

u )/ resuscitated by the bad conscience of the ethnologists, 


those sons of the colonial conquest who, to assuage their h 
consciences, discover that the primitives are 'human beingc'^ 
the dawn of human civilization, and then cultivate their frietjf 
ship (see Levi-Strauss's evocations of the friendships that sp ra 
up between him and his primitives). I know that all this m ^ 
seem 'facile', but that's how it is: the difficult thing is to see wh 
the consequences of this 'facileness' are. 

The basic consequence of the fact that L£vi-Strauss make* 
things easy for himself - by omitting to call the very foundation. 
of ethnological ideology into question, and so succumbing to it 
in his turn - is that he is prevented from attending to the essence 
of what Marx says. If we really read and listen to Marx, we have 
no choice but to draw the following conclusions: 

1. there are no 'primitive societies' (this is not a scientific 
concept); there are, however, 'social formations' (a scientific 
concept) which we can provisionally call primitive, in a 
sense wholly uncontaminated by the idea of origin (of pure, 
nascent civilization, of the truth of transparent, pure, native 
human relations, and so on); 

2. like any other social formation, a primitive social formation 
comprises a structure that can be thought only with the 
help of the concept of mode of production, and all the 
subordinate concepts implied by it and contained in it (i.e> a 
mode of production consists of an economic base, a legal- 
political superstructure, and an ideological superstructure); 

3. like any other social formation, a primitive social formation 
possesses a structure that results from the combination of 
at least two distinct modes of production, one dominant and 
the other subordinate (for example, hunting and cattle- 
raising, hunting and farming of such-and-such a typ^ 
hunting and gathering, gathering and fishing, or idxtc^i 
and gathering and hunting or cattle-raising, etc.); 4 

4. as in any other social formation, this combination of W°^ 
more modes of production (one of which dominates & 
other or others) produces specific effects that account 
the concrete form taken by the legal-political and ideolofr 
cal superstructures. The effects of the dominance of ° 
mode of production over the other or others often P r0 \- 
paradoxical effects at the level of superstructural f orn 


on l£vi-strauss 23 

rri rularly of the ideological superstructure, the only 

P a rstrU ctural form L^vi-Strauss ever really considers. By 

w I mean that every mode of production necessarily 

• duces the existence of the (superstructural) instances that 
[ c jfjcally [en propre] correspond to it, and that the hierar- 

h'cal combination of several modes of production, each 

• during its own specific instances, produces as its actually 
xistine result a combination of different (superstructural) 
nstances induced by the different modes of production 

which are combined in a given social formation. It follows 
that the superstructural instances that actually exist in this 
particular social formation have forms that are intelligible 
only as the specific combination of the instances induced by 
the different modes of production involved (combined in 
the social formation under consideration) and by the effects 
of the dominance of one over the others. This effect of 
dominance can be paradoxical: this means, as history shows 
us time and again, that a mode of production which is 
dominant (economically speaking) can nevertheless exist in 
a social formation under the dominance of superstructural 
instances that derive from some other, subordinate mode of 
production. (For example, the form of the Prussian state in 
the mid-nineteenth century was induced by the feudal mode 
of production, which was none the less subordinate to the 
capitalist mode of production in the Prussian social forma- 
tion: what dominated in the superstructure was a form of 
state corresponding to the feudal mode of production, 
which was nevertheless dominated in the economy by the 
capitalist mode of production.) It is these cross-effects 
which account, even in 'primitive' societies, for ideological 

ijferences (in the structure of ideologies; differences that 
vi-Strauss quite simply associates with purely possible 

ormal variations, that is, with the merely logical categories 
°pposition, substitution, etc., without once pausing to 

H er a bout the reasons for these substitution[s], vari- 

ns, etc., precisely because he does not know what a 

* a formation or a mode of a production or the combi- 

. of modes of production and their superstructural 

5- If thk i 

ls so, then we are no longer entitled to use the 


concept of anthropology, as L£vi-Strauss does in the Wak e 
all other ethnologists. There can be no such thing as anthr 
pology. It is a concept which simply sums up ethnologi 
ideology (see my remarks above) in the illusory belief th 
the object of ethnology is constituted by phenomena diff e 
ent from those studied by the science of history (of social 
formations, of whatever kind). That L£vi-Strauss calls him. 
self an anthropologist gives him his membership card fo 
ethnological ideology, and, at the same time, a theoretical 
programme: a claim to forging the specific concepts app r0fc 
priate to the unique (and exemplary) reality called a primi- 
tive [primitif] society, and a claim to forging, with these 
concepts, concepts that are primordial [primitif] (that is 
originary) with respect to all the others with whose help we 
think the reality of other 'social formations' - Marxist 
concepts in particular. 

(What I have just laid out for you concerning 'primitive 
social formations', modes of production, their necessary coexis- 
tence and combination in any social formation, the effects 
induced by each mode of production and, lastly, the combi- 
nation of the effects induced by each mode of production on 
their superstructural levels, together with the possibly paradox- 
ical effects of this combination - none of this, if I may be 
permitted to say so, is for sale in the shops. These are ideas that 
we have drawn, that I have drawn, from our studies of Marx. 
They are, in and of themselves, a small 'discovery' that I will 
present in my book. 5 In particular, the conclusions about 
anthropology that we derive from this are of very great theoret- 
ical, and therefore, indirectly, ideological, and of course political 
consequence. You can see, too, that this gives us, for the fi# 
time, something with which we can think what transpires at the 
level of the forms of the superstructure, especially their ott&* 
paradoxical forms, not just at the level of the state or the po* 1 . 
ical in general - the political does not always take the foflfl 
the state! - but also at the level of the forms of the ideologic 
This has certain major political consequences.) . 

My basic criticism of L£vi-Strauss is that he discusses ™ 
ideological and aspires to provide a theory of it without kno& 
what it is or being able to say what it is. 

on l£vi-strauss 25 

sequences of this are incalculable, if you recall that not 

Th e fat th e ideological is means, to begin with, not knowing 

faiOU> in $ .j f orm ation is, or what a mode of production is, or 

^ hat the instances (economic, political, ideological) of a mode of 

v** 3 ^ n ar6/ or what their combination (primary, secondary) 

•c and so on. 
rh e consequences are readily identifiable in Levi-Strauss's 

r iptme mention the most important, besides those I've 
theory- ^ , . 

already pointed out. 

i When L£vi-Strauss analyses the structure or structures of 
k'nship relations, what he fails to say is that if kinship relations 
nlav so important a role in primitive societies, this is precisely 
because they play the role of relations of production - relations of 
production that are intelligible only as a function of the modes of 
production whose relations of production they are (and as a 
function of the combination of these modes of production). As a 
result, in L6vi-Strauss, kinship relations are left hanging in the 
air' They depend, when one reads his texts, on two different 
conditions; he shifts constantly back and forth between them. 
Either they depend on a formal condition (the effect of a formal 
combinatory that depends, in the final analysis, on the 'human 
spirit', the 'structure of the human spirit', and ultimately the . . 
'brain' 6 - this is L£vi-Strauss's 'materialist' side, which combines 
a binary linguistic approach with a cybernetic conception of the 
human brain, and so on; you get the picture), which is, ulti- 
mately, a logical 'principle' or a brute material reality (Boolean 
ogic as revised by binary linguists, or the physiology of the 
rain . . .) 'incarnated' in kinship structures. Or, on the contrary, 
hip structures depend in L6vi-Strauss on another, purely 

junctionalist condition that can be summed up as follows: if 

Certain 1 

so ru | es governing marriage, and so forth, exist in primitive 

(^ , es ' p lfc * s so tliat these societies can live, survive, and so on. 
Sci ctl °nalist biologist subjectivism: there is a 'social uncon- 
that ' W . ^ ensur es, exactly as an acute intelligence would, 
s urviv "^^ soc iety' possesses the means it needs to live and 
the th St aS 0ne must criticize this functionalism, which, on 
that co I a * ptane, invariably takes the form of a subjectivism 
en doty h^ 8 - U P on soc iety' the form of existence of a subject 
With intentions and goals, so one must criticize and 


reject the concept of the unconscious, its indispensable correUn 
of which L£vi-Strauss is compelled to make liberal use. I w n V *' 
go so far as to say that the concept of the unconscious is no m 
scientific a concept in psychoanalysis than in sociology ** 
anthropology or history: you see how far I am prepared to * ^f 
In short, because L6vi-Strauss does not know that kinship stm 
hires play the role of relations of production in primitive sod i 
formations (for he does not know what relations of products 
are, since he does not know what a social formation or a m^ 
of production is, and so on), he is compelled to think them either 
in relation to the 'human spirit' or the 'brain' and their conu^ 
(binary) formal principle, or else in relation to a social uncon. 
scious that accomplishes the functions necessary to the survival 
of a society. 

One of the most spectacular consequences of his theory is that 
it leaves him utterly incapable of accounting for the fact that 
kinship structures in primitive societies are not always and 
everywhere the same, but exhibit significant variations. For him, 
these variations are merely the variations of a purely formal mode 
of combination - which is simply tautological and explains 
nothing. When you grant yourself a mode of combination that 
allows for an infinity of possible forms in its combinatory matrix, 
the relevant question is not whether the possibility of such-and- 
such a real phenomenon (such-and-such an observable kinship 
structure) is from the outset already included among the vari- 
ations of the combinatory (for that is tautological, and consists 
in establishing that what is real was possible). The pertinent 
question is, rather, the following: why is it this possibility and not 
another which has come about r and is therefore real? 

But L6vi-Strauss never answers this question, because he nevt? 
asks it. It is entirely beyond the confines of his theoretic^ 
horizon, of the field delimited by his basic concepts. He taW* 
on the one hand, the real as he observes it and, on the other, tn 
possibilities that he has generated with his type of univers^ 
combinatory: when he comes up against a real, the w ^ 
problem consists, for him, in constructing the possibility of W* 
real, setting out from the play of the combinatory. Yet it is *J 
by producing the possibility of an existing real that you * en _ 
it intelligible but, rather, by producing the concept of its nec& » 
(this particular possibility and not another). To understand a f 

on l£vi-strauss 27 

. not I would say, a matter of producing the 
oh^ n0inen0r Possibility (that is still classical philosophical ideol- 
c onc& of ' V juridical operation that I denounce in the preface 
og y / the *W ital ^ j ; it i Sy rather, a matter of producing the 
t0 Reading I necessity- That L£vi-Strauss's formalism is the 
concept ° - formalism can be seen, now, in connection with 
wrong > or c j se point: L6vi-Strauss takes the formalism of 
th *St° T the formalization of necessity. 

What 1 h ave ) ust sa * d a ^ out L6vi-Strauss's analyses of 
structures also applies, a fortiori and in an infinitely more 
kinS lline way, to his analyses of the ideological Yet I know that 
C ° people who would go along with what I say about kinship 
S ° tures Yvouid be much more reticent when it comes to 
deoloey a nd L£vi-Strauss's analysis of it. For his formalism 
seems better adapted to his analyses of myths, since he does not 
appear to confuse things in the case of myths the way he does in 
the case of kinship structures. If he doesn't know that kinship 
structures function as relations of production (that is why they 
display the observable structures, structures that disappeared in 
our societies once relations of production were no longer conflated 
with kinship structures) - if, that is, L6vi-Strauss is wrong about 
the nature and role of kinship structures - he seems, on the other 
hand, to be right about myths, because he takes them for what 
they are: myths, forms of the ideological. He himself says that they 
are forms of the ideological! He appears to have going for him, 
then, the fact that his object is a real one, and that he has found 
the nght name for it. Unfortunately, a name is not ipso facto a 
scientific concept. As L£vi-Strauss does not know what the ideo- 
logical is (although he says he is dealing with the ideological), 
c JJ^ e he doe s not know what the ideological level is in the 
^mp ex articulation of a mode of production and, a fortiori, in 
s ocia C l°f mbination ° f several m °des of production within one 
the ide°[ mati0n ' he falls back " instead of & vin S us a theory of 
ne cessit °f - Ca '' * at lS/ instead °f producing the concept of the 
tem Ptati ltS di ff erential forms ~ on * e procedure and ideological 
tures. ThT- *** worked < so well! ) ' m the case of lunship struc- 
ica1 ' Pro h Why W6 find him going throu g h the same ' theoret " 

to Possi J//to agUin ' He traces the forms of the ideol °g icaI back 
es COns tructed on the basis of a combinatory (with its 


classical, ultimately binary procedures); the combinatory i^. 
in turn traced back either to a 'faculty' of the human spirit * 
this combinatory were one of its effects, or, when hop e '^ 
within him (or begins to stir again), to . the brain! Rather th 
retreating, then, he forges ahead under the banner of the wr 
sort of formalization {once again, that of the possible, a fornix 
zation that is fundamentally ideological). Either the same fohJ 
are identified as homologous with other existing forms (by yj^ 
of the 'virtues' of the procedures of the combinatory), the form* 
of kinship or economic or linguistic exchange; or they a 
ultimately identified with certain 'economistic' factors ('mode of 
life', 'geographical conditions', etc.) which L6vi-Strauss takes for 
the equivalent of a Marxist theory of the economic level of a 
mode of production, whose conceptual existence he knows 
nothing about. Here too, the 'sticking-point' for Levi-Strauss is 
that he is absolutely incapable of accounting for the real diversity 
of the existence of a given form of the ideological in a given 
primitive social formation: he only ever accounts for the possible, 
and once he has produced the concept of possibility, he assumes 
that he need no longer worry about the concept of necessity, to 
which he is royally indifferent. 

I do not say that it is easy to see one's way clearly in all of 
this. In particular, it does not work very well at all simply to 
take for good coin the handful of Marxist concepts circulating in 
the market, and then try to 'apply' them as found to so-called 
'primitive' societies. But Marx explains at sufficient length that 
the laws governing the mechanism of a social formation vary & 
a function of the structure of this social formation; this top" 65 
that one has to produce the concepts required to account for tn 
specific social formations known as primitive social formati°y 
When we observe them, we discover that while, in princip ' 
things function in accordance with the same laws of necessity 
primitive social formations, they take different forms. We °^ 
cover, for instance, that the function of the relations of product* 


at & 
as in ours; that the political, the ideological and, in genera 1 ' 

is not accomplished by the same 'elements' in primitive soc i* 
as in ours; that the political, the ideological and, in general . 
instances do not take the same form or, consequently, - tt 
exactly the same fields as they do in our societies, but, & . 
include other elements, relations, and forms. These diffe re 

on l£vi-strauss 29 

intelligible only on the basis of Marx's fundamental 
\\o^ eVetf f ncepts (social formation, mode of production, etc.), 
^\eo^ ca . te differential forms of which have to be produced 
^ e apP r0 P n j sms f primitive social formations are to be 

if * e intelligible. 

r endere faer\, that the whole of L£vi-Strauss's thought, 

* VV ° merits as well as its defects, becomes intelligible if we 
itn i^ ----- . ._. 

^ 3 T ts himself from thinking when he sets out to think it (and 

v^ lin , ^is misunderstanding of Marx; not because Marx is 
*** ° U but because Marx thought the very object that L6vi-Strauss 

k / r i* i_l * 1 ' 1— 'L. L. J. J. i 1_ • 1 * i_ / J 

Jffimis that he thinks it). 
L£vi-Strauss furnishes very good descriptions of certain mecha- 
. (kinship structures, the forms in which one myth is trans- 
formed into another, and so forth), but he never knows what the 
object whose mechanism he is describing is, because what makes 
it possible to define this object in the existing science (Marx's 
concepts) is a dead letter for him. He is talking about relations 
of production when he describes kinship structures, but is 
unaware that he is talking about relations of production. When 
he talks about myths, he is talking about an instance (the result 
of a complex and often paradoxical combination) that takes its 
place in a social formation structured by a combination of modes 
of production, but he is unaware that he is talking about this 
determinate, real, necessary instance: he thinks he is talking 
about the human spirit! This profound 'blunder' has very serious 
consequences. The most serious is that L6vi-Strauss is forced to 
invent an object out of whole cloth (or, rather, to scavenge it from 
e most vulgar ideology, where it has been lying around for 
^usands of years of religion) - ostensibly the object of his 
urse: the 'human spirit'! The other consequences are no less 
com°K US: - thiS human spirit' is endowed with the 'faculty' of 
s Pirit min ^ P ossi kilihes, in binary fashion (either this human 

Product* * e ^ rain ')' with the result * at ' for L£vi-Strauss, the 
by t u l ° n °* *he concept of the necessity of an object is replaced 

^scn^ s P f roduction of the concept of its possibility. What he 
Ce m w'tK Ver ^ we ^) * s tbus associated one hundred per 

P° s sibilY m ystical power of a human spirit combining 

Anguish* and producin S them as possibilities. Everything that 
^^8 that rea ^ s fr° m one an °ther, in other words, every- 

ma kes for the differential necessity of existing 


phenomena, of distinct instances - all this is glossed over 
that all that we encounter in the world is homologies, isoi^? 
phisms: words, women, goods, and so on, are all exchanged * 
the same way, because they have the same 'form' (isomorpk- 
forms by virtue of their common birth: isomorphic because tfw 
are born of the same combinatory matrix of pure possibility,? 
We then find one and the same 'human spirit' everywhere; thj 
is the proof that the 'Savage Mind' thinks, 7 a proof that p u ^ 
L6vi-Strauss's philosophical ignorance on display. I'll give y 0ll 
just one example for the sake of a laugh; it's worth its weight in 
gold. L£vi-Strauss has taken it into his head that, in certain 
respects, the 'savage mind' is far in advance of the 'non-savage' 
mind - for example, when it comes to conceiving 'secondary 
qualities', individuals, singularity, and so forth. 8 This is practi- 
cally Bergson! It is an ideological myth in the true sense. It 
would be easy to show that modern scientific thought sets out to 
think singularity, not only in history (Marx and Lenin: 'the soul 
of Marxism is the concrete analysis of a concrete situation') and 
psychoanalysis, but also in physics, chemistry, biology, and so 
on. The one little problem (for Bergson and L6vi-Strauss!!) is that 
it is possible to think the singular and concrete only in concepts 
(which are thus 'abstract' and 'general'); but that is the very 
condition for thinking the singular, since there can be no thinking 
without concepts (which are, consequently, abstract and 'gen- 
eral'). Philosophers such as Spinoza (the 'singular essences') and 
Leibniz did not wait until our day to assign the non-savage 
mind the task of thinking singularity (that is, to register the 
reality of modern science in philosophy)!! Of course, L£vi-Strauss 
is unaware of this; he prides himself on having revealed to the 
world that modern science, too, is in the process of gradually 
drawing closer to the savage mind and thinking the singula*' 
when it has been doing so from the very beginning of its existence- 
It as if he were to reveal that we shall, at last, begin inching ®& 
way down the path that will lead to the discovery of America " 
which was, alas, for better or for worse, discovered a very 1°^ 
time ago. 

Of course, the critique I have just outlined, like any critiq u ' 
is to some extent unjust, because it is one-sided. I have said tn 
L£vi-Strauss describes certain mechanisms very well indeed. It 0*7 
happens that, in describing something, he goes bexjond desc^r 

on l£vi-strauss 31 

. . specially true of his studies of kinship structures, 
tiofl : * 11 en dure as an important discovery. His analyses of 
^ l o sometimes contain things of great value. And the fact 
my 1 * 1 ? Ih a t he is a thinker with a concern for rigour who knows 
reI riaifl j^j C wor k is. In short, I would have to rectify and 
VV ^ 3 mv criticism with all sorts of qualifications to make it 
temp e g^ t j ^ no |. think that the points I have just developed 
e< 1 ul if t ou t of a just [juste] evaluation of L£vi-Strauss's work. 
Cafl if some of my formulations are too hasty, I believe that 
are on the mark [touchent juste]: they touch on the precise 
• t that distinguishes us from L6vi-Strauss himself and, a 
frtiori, from all the 'structuralists' 


1. See especially Claude L£vi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. 
Monique Lay ton, Chicago, 1983. 

2. See the Editor's Introduction above. 

3. The 5 January 1960 inaugural lecture that L6vi-Strauss delivered after 
being appointed to the newly created Chair of Social Anthropology at the 
College de France. See L£vi-Strauss, 'The Scope of Anthropology', Struc- 
tural Anthropologic 11, trans. Monique Layton, Harmondsworth, 1976, 
pp. 3-32. [Trans!]* 

4. Althusser asked a secretary at the ficole normale supexieure to type out 
an extract from a letter written by Emmanuel Terray in which Terray 
comments on this paragraph in particular. While indicating his agreement 
with Althusser's basic argument, Terray insists that the examples Althus- 
ser gives leave something to be desired, for they can lead to confusion 

etween a 'mode of production' and a 'sphere of production': hunting 
f fishing are not, in themselves, modes of production. The original 

5 ^ nas not been preserved. 

usser is probably referring to one of his unfinished works on the 
stili° n °* theory and practice, which originated in a mimeographed text 

6 <^ " n P ub Ushed in French, dated 20 April 1965, TTFTF 

P 248 6Xam P le ' c l au de Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Chicago, 1966, 

m ?\ a f nematica * thought at any rate reflects the free functioning of the 
rel h €Sprit llmmm ]' tnat is / tne activity of the cells of the cerebral cortex, 
ow em *ncipated from any external constraint and obeying only its 

^ aws. As the mind too is a thing, the functioning of this thing teaches 
s °mething about the nature of things. 


7 'La demonstration de La Pensee sauvage': La Pensee sauvage is the French H 
of the book that appeared in English under the title The Savage M^/ 
[Trans.] ^ 

8. See in particular ibid., p. 22: 

Physics and chemistry are already striving to become qualitative ao»- 
that is, to account also for secondary qualities which when they havew* 
explained will in their turn become means of explanation. And bioW* 
may perhaps be marking time waiting for this before it can itself expl^ 
life. F ^ 

Three Notes on the 
Theory of Discourses 


Althusser delivered his 26 June 1966 lecture The Philosophical Con- 
juncture and Marxist Theoretical Research' with two objectives in 
mind: to assess, some eight months after the publication of For Marx 
and Reading Capital, the prevailing theoretical conjuncture, and to 
lay the groundwork for the organization of a broad national structure 
in which it would be possible to carry out collective theoretical work. 
In November, he drew up a text he called 'Circular No. 1 ' , and had it 
typed. The stated purpose of this circular was 'to organize this collective 
work': it called for the formation of Theoretical Work Groups' through- 
out France. These were to be based on the following principle: 'We 
believe that a Theoretical Work Group, at least given the present state 
of philosophical and epistemological problems, cannot be straightfor- 
wardly organized on the basis of the existing "disciplines", that is, on 
le ° as * s of divisions that in many cases must rather be criticized and 
rejected. Today most of the decisive theoretical problems, at least in 
PMosophy and the "Human Sciences", are obfuscated by "disciplin- 
Q ^V divisions and their effects. We therefore propose that the Theoreti- 
"int ^ Group be organized around, not a discipline or 
the 6rdlSci P linar y theme", but a theoretical object, a fundamental 
f e 1Ca ' problem which, while it may well touch on the domains 
an v ofn ex * stln 8 disciplines, will not necessarily appear in person in 
Mlho T* 1 ' Whether in its con*™* or the form of its theoretical object/ 
*zed Ai u or 8 an ization envisaged in this 'circular' never material- 
himseif "r* SSer ^ indeed create a collective work group around 

sta Ze in V lT€e ^ otes on the Theory of Discourses' constitutes the first 
n lts history. 


In a letter preserved in his files, dated 7 October 1966 andafa 
to Alain Badiou, ttienne Balibar, Yves Duroux and Pierre Aw^ 
Althusser outlined his conception of the work that he prop Q *b> 
undertake with them. He began by noting that the object was top* *° 
a 'work of Philosophy (Elements of Dialectical Materialism) t\w l 
will publish collectively, say, a year from now, or, at the latest ■** 

year and a half - a work which, he added in a 14 October l e tt 
Balibar, in an explicit reference to Spinoza, was to be 'a true ivo r i 
philosophy that can stand as our Ethics' He went on to define the hi 

of research that he had in mind. 'At the present stage," he wrote, 'fa 
collective work should be carried out in written form, via an exchan 
of research notes drawn up by each of us and distributed to all fil 
collaborators.' 'So as to avoid provoking reactions from certain oversen- 
sitive people/ he added, 'it should be a matter of strict agreement 
among us that we will maintain the most complete secrecy about 
our agreement, that is, our project, our collective work and its organi- 
zational forms. I want a formal commitment from you on this point 
You can easily see why.' He further explained what he meant ty 
'research notes': 'it should be understood that these are research notes, 
that is, essays, tentative approaches, reflections that involve theoretical 
risks of error and invite corrections and criticism. Tims we should net 
be at all afraid to engage in attempts that may go awry, or put forward 
hypotheses that may be risky and have to be rejected or put to rights' 
Finally, Althusser insisted on what was, in his view, the basic condition 
for the success of the project: 'everything depends on our awareness of 
the importance of what is at stake in this undertaking; without thri, 
there is every chance that the circuit will soon be interrupted. Eachoj 
us should pledge not to leave a Note he has received unanswered 
Each of us should put in writing, in a Note, thoughts and remarks (<J 
whatever kind) that stand in direct or indirect relation to the project® 
Elements. ' 

As is well known, the projected book never saw the light. Yet, # 
certain sense, it exists. In the space of two years, Althusser and » 
collaborators exchanged more than four hundred pages of Not& I 
greatly varying lengths. And, however ambiguous the undertake' 
given the institutional rank of the now internationally famous Alt™, 
ser, the facts are there for all to see: an unprecedented intelltf* 1 ^ 
adventure did indeed take place. One would be hard pressed to fl^ 
others like it. «>, 

Posted on 28 October 1966, 'Three Notes on the Theory of™ 


tHR ee notes U 

the fast Note to be exchanged. It was followed, in 
cour^' wa * January 1967, by ttienne Balibar's fifty-seven-page 
flctverfto** . ff ie ory of Discourse' But, since things are never simple, 
•tfott° n h cer tain that Althusser initially wrote his text with a 
u >e c fltm ° : ect i n mind. As he himself says in the accompanying 
collecting p J ^^ ^ 5 written 'over the month of September' ; typed 
letter, ' U *P i $ wa s one of the three Notes sent in a single batch to 
by a * ecr n a i) 0ra tors, and probably also to Michel Tort, who partici- 
,li$ 'T* \ the organized exchange. We have, however, found an earlier 
patea i r^ t€ ^ rst ^j t e j n Althusser's files. Entitled 'On Psychoanal- 
Ver$t '° it was typed by Althusser himself and dated 13 September. 
^Althusser sent this text to Rene Diatkine on 5 October 1966; alluding 

his recent 'Letters to D[iatkine]', he says: 'This text, as you will see, 
fuou have the patience (and time) to read it, rectifies a number of the 
theses that I proposed in my letters this summer. In particular, I now 
think that what I said earlier about the universality of the "two 
storeys" 2 does not stand up. The "two storeys" of the economic are not 
of the same nature as the "two storeys" of discourses.' 

Althusser sent the same text to Franca Madonia on 13 September, 
along with a detailed commentary on its status and stakes: 

Bear in mind tliat this writing exercise is research in the true sense, not an 
exposition of things already known. One result is that there are modifica- 
tions (tending towards increased precision) between the terminology used 
in the beginning and that used at the end. The 'thesis' defended here 
depends to a large extent on a point of theory that I've been working out for 
a few months now, concerning the difference between a general theory and 
tlie regional theories that depend on it. The need for this distinction has 
made itself felt in connection with Marx's works. Let me tell you, to give 
you the general idea, that I would today say that historical materialism is 

e general theory of which the theory of the capitalist mode of production, 

0r the theory of the political and of politics or the theory of the 

logical, or the theory of the stages of the transition towards the socialist 

e of production, or the theory of the economic instance of the capitalist 
e of production (which Marx explicitly discusses in Capital), etc., are 

jponal theories. These regional theories are theories of a theoretical 
(th C ca pitalist mode of production, etc.), not knowledge o/real objects 
apitalist mode of production is not a real object, for it exists only in 
R w . ano ^ er historical social formation, nineteenth-century England, 
^ssut in 2927, France and Italy in 1966, etc.). That which exists, in the 
a ^ sense of the word 'to exist', is real objects (which I today call, using 
ce Pt of Spinoza's, 'singular essences'): the knowledge of real objects 


presupposes the intervention of the concepts of the general theory and 
regional theories involved, plus the (empirical) knowledge of the det 
nate forms of existence that make for the singularity of these essences t?** 
a record of analytical practice (one or another episode of a cure as desctik* 
by a psychoanalyst) presupposes - in order to be understood as s 
situated and brought into relation with the mechanism that produces > 
an appeal to the regional theory of psychoanalysis, which in turn pr esb " 
poses an appeal to the general theory. In the text I've sent you to read Si 
emphasis is on the absolutely indispensable nature of an appeal to h. 
general theory, and on the fact that (this is its theoretical tragedy) »l_ 
regional theory of psychoanalysis still has no general theory at its disposal 
for it does not know which general theory it depends on, I try to a*! 
which one it depends on, and I show that this general theory « fl 
combination of two general theories, one known (historical materialism) and 
another whose existence is as yet unsuspected, or very nearly so, and in 
any case confused, even today, with either linguistics or psychoanalysis 
(this confusion is to be found even in Lacan): the general theory of the 
signifier, which studies the mechanisms and possible effects of even 
discourse (signifier). 

If all this is true, it should, despite its aridity, have the effect of a bomb. 
I'm going to get as many guarantees as I can by consulting a few, but only 
a very few, knowledgeable young lads before publishing it, in a form I'veyet 
to decide on. For I'm advancing here in afield bristling with people packing 
pistols of every imaginable calibre; they fire without warning and without 
mercy, and, if I don't watch out, I risk being shot down in cold blood? 

Not long after producing the first text, Althusser came to the 
conclusion that certain points in it required modification. He proceeded 
to write the other two Notes, which he dated 12 October 1966, and hri 
a secretary type all three. He did not modify his first Note before the 
12th, but the typed version of it bears many critical comments in h# 
hand. If another passage in the letter to Madonia just quoted is to he 
believed, these emendations were made before he began to compose the 
last two Notes: 'There are in this text not only terminological Q^' 
ations, but one or two passages that contain quite a few impr&i* 
statements and are sprinkled with question marks - passages v& 
didn't stand up in my own view even as I was writing them. St^ 
then I've refined a few ideas which can help put these passages to righ 
- but I haven't had a chance to revise my text/ 4 

The very fact that the texts published here were left unfinished Wr 
us to see a dimension of Althusser s enterprise that has been ignor ed 
misunderstood. Althusser is often accused of attempting to esta™ 


1/ of a system. But what we find in these texts is quite the 

the heg etn - ^ jr thought that attends to the singularity of the 

O ppo$rt e ' . carefully eschews, at a time when 'structuralism' was at 

$cie nces ^ y unification of the 'human sciences' under the hegemony 

its 0p°& '/ t u enh 'historical materialism' and 'dialectical materialism' not 

fone J ^ ^^ yfaile attempting a differential definition of the status 

cxcep f them (in the present instance, psychoanalysis). We also 

°- )>r in these texts an original attempt at least to pose the question 

^n? relationship between the unconscious and ideology. If today we 

- thanks to the 'late Althusser', among others - that the problems 

nose are not always those they are capable of solving, we cannot 

tend to believe that they have solved a problem simply because they 

have ceased to pose it. 

What follows contains the whole of the text of 'Three Notes on the 
Theory of Discourses' in the form in which it was sent to the members 
of the group mentioned above. We have supplemented this text with 
certain passages which were included in the copy that Althusser typed, 
but which were then omitted, obviously by mistake, when someone else 
retyped it. As for Althusser's handwritten addenda to the version of 
tlie first Note that he himself typed, they are reproduced, without 
exception, in our Notes to the text. 

Olivier Corpet and Frangois Matheron 

Cover letter 

Paris, 28 October 1966 

"ru t0 ^ s l etter ' as a personal contribution to our exchange, 
nree Notes' about the theory of discourses. This text grew out 
a re "ection on the status of unconscious discourse and its 
^culation with ideological discourse. 

have recopied the first Note, written in September, without 
cn ^ging anything in it. 

2 anH VlOUS ^' ** ^ as ^ een P ar ^y superseded, as appears in Notes 

'sub* l , believe that everything I have said about the place of the 

^ork ^ ^^ one °fth e discourses must be revised. The more I 

abs i f^ **' ^ e more * thu** that the category of the subject is 

e v fundamental to ideological discourse, that it is one of 


its central categories: it is bound up with the tmth-guarante • 
the centred, double mirror structure. ^ 

Drawing the consequences of this 'pertinence', I do not thi 
it is possible to talk about a 'subject' of the unconscious, althouk 
Lacan does, or of a 'subject of science', or of a 'subject of aesthJfi 
discourse' - even if certain categories of the discourses in q u JJ 
tion do bear a relation to the category of the subject, inasmuch a 
all are articulated with ideological discourse, each in a specif: 

All this already provides a basis for refinements and rectifies 
tions, but I don't have the time to work them out right now 
others can say what they are and develop them at length, under 
more favourable conditions. 

(b) all of the last part of Note 1 has to be revised and very 
seriously modified, both because of the status it implicitly ascribes 
to the subject of the general theory and also because of the 
General Theory which it suggests is determinant. 


[On Psychoanalysis] 

1. The current situation of "psychoanalytic theory 

We can describe psychoanalytic theory in its current state by 
saying that, apart from a few attempts discussed below, it takes 
the form, in the best of cases, of a regional theory which lacks a 
general theory, although it is, in principle, the realization of this 
general theory. 

To approach psychoanalytic theory as a regional theory is to 
approach it as a theory, a system of theoretical concepts tM 
makes it possible to account for the structure and functioning ° 
its object currently known as the psychoanalytic unconscious- 
The unconscious is the theoretical object (or object of knowledge 
of psychoanalytic theory (a regional theory). 

This theory of the unconscious, as found in Freud (the &* 
topography, the second topography) or Lacan, has, as a theoty 
to be carefully distinguished from its application (precepts, p* a ^ 
tical rules for the conduct of the cure) as well as from <$>& 

rEE notes on the theory of discourses 39 

f psychoanalytic practice {the cure), which are 
v ati° n ^ , es5 re gistered in the concepts of that theory. The con- 
ned 1 " m eans of which the experimental data of the cure are 
ce ^ S ht (and manipulated) are practised concepts, not (theoreti- 
th Uv? thought concepts. 

th concepts that are systematically thought in the regional 
hoanaiytic theory do not take as their object the real object 
P s ^ hich the practice of the cure and its observations bear, but 
0I \ core tjcal object that allows us to think, among other things, what 
3 s on in the cure. Freud's topographies think the unconscious 
• veneral, that is, provide the concepts that account not only for 
what goes on in the cure, especially in 'pathological' cases - 
vchoses anc j neuroses - but also for what goes on outside the 
cure and elsewhere than in so-called 'pathological' cases. It is no 
accident that Freud first wrote an Interpretation of Dreams, then 
went on to produce a Psychopathology of Everyday Life and a 
theory of the Witz, or that he discussed art, religion, and so on. 
The theory of the unconscious is, in principle, the theory of all 
the possible effects of the unconscious - in the cure, outside the 
cure, in 'pathological' as well as 'normal' cases. What character- 
izes it as a theory is what makes any theory a theory: it takes as 
its object not this or that real object, but an object of knowledge 
(and thus a theoretical object); it produces the knowledge of the 
(determinate) possibility of the effects, and thus of the possible 
effects of this object in its real forms of existence. Every theory, 
then, goes beyond the real object that constitutes the empirical 
point of departure' for the historical constitution of the theory 
(in Freud, this point of departure is the 'talking cure') and 
produces its own theoretical object as well as knowledge of it, 
nich is knowledge of the possibilities [les possibles] of this object, 
the forms of existence in which these determinate possi- 

Hes ar e realized, that is, exist as real objects. 

n this perspective, we may say that a psychoanalytic theory 

prod mdeed eXist ' that this theor y has its theoretical ob J ect and 
biiy UCes knowledge [connaissances], the knowledge of the possi- 

! A l * s (in Particular, the possible effects) of this object, 
regj , same time, however, we must say that this theory is a 
i n D . a . "*eory which exhibits the peculiar feature of depending 

j ^ ! P e on a general theory that is absent. 

e history of the sciences, this situation is not unique to 


psychoanalysis. Every 5 new 'science' irrupts, when ^ . 
'founded', in the form of a regional theory that depends • 
principle on an absent general theory. This dejure dependence o 
a general theory which is absent in fact means that: 

• we can observe, within the regional theory itself, th 
absence of the general theory (the effects of this absence) at 
the theoretical level: for as long as the general theory fe 
lacking, the regional theory strives to 'achieve closure', bm 
fails to; or, to put it in other terms, it tries to define its own 
object differentially (in contradistinction to other theoretical 
objects: in the present case, those of biology, psychology 
sociology, etc.), but fails to. This attempt and failure are the 
presence of this de facto absence of a general theory, the 
existence of which is nevertheless called for, de jure, in 
order to found these attempts; 

• we can also observe the absence of the general theory at the 
practical level. The theoretical problem of the limits, and 
thus of the differential definition of the object of psycho- 
analysis - a problem which, in the absence of a general 
theory, remains unsolved - produces specific effects in the 
field of technique and the field of practice. For example: if 
the psychoses can be made accessible to psychoanalytic 
technique, how should the cure of psychotics be conducted, 
and so on? For example: what is the relationship, practically 
and technically speaking, between the psychoanalytic cure 
and the psychotherapies, between psychoanalysis and psy- 
chosomatic medicine, and so on? For example - this is the 
most serious consequence: because of the lack of a general 
theory, we are witnessing the decline of the regional theory/ 
ignorance of it as a theory, and its retreat into the emptf 1 * 
cism of psychoanalytic practice or its unwarranted confl** 
Hon with other regional theories (biology, psychology/ e* c ' 
even at the technical level (consider the technical deviation 
of certain schools, whether Adler and Jung or the Engl* 5 * 1 
and American schools). 

It must, however, be pointed out that the effects of e°* 
absence can be relatively limited, confined within limits tfl* 
safeguard both Freud's psychoanalytic rules (the techni^ 
of the cure) and the regional theory on which they dep efl 



rro.p practice of many practitioners may well be technically 
rrect even if they do not master, at the theoretical level, 
the regional theory (it is enough for them to master it in its 
technical forms, the guarantee of effective practice) - (it is 
enough for them to 'practise' it). By the same token, the 
regional theory, despite the dangers just evoked, can sur- 
vive more or less intact in the absence of a general theory, 
the need for which nevertheless makes itself felt in principle 
in that theory's very absence. 

These are the features which define the situation of psycho- 
analytic practice and psychoanalytic theory today. We find either 
practitioners who 'practise' the regional theory (and whose 
practice is correct, whatever ideas about the regional theory, 
correct or not, they may have in their heads); or practitioners 
who do not practise it (but, rather, practise a false theory); or, 
again, psychoanalysts who master the regional theory theoreti- 
cally (and who, at the same time, can simultaneously - this is not 
inconceivable - 'practise' it badly). In the immense majority of 
cases, psychoanalysis does not go beyond the regional theory. 

The fact that psychoanalysis does not have a general theory at its 
disposal, only a practice or a regional theory, confers a very 
peculiar status upon it: it is not in a position to provide objective 
proof of its scientificity - that is to say, it is not in a position 
differentially to define (or locate) its theoretical object in the field 
of theoretical objectivity (a field constituted by the differential 
relations of the different theoretical objects in existence). Indeed, 
the only possible way to provide proof of the scientificity of a 
regional theory is point to the differential articulation which 
assigns that regional theory its place in the articulated field of 
fisting theoretical objects. The general theory alone can fulfil 
. ls ^ction, by thinking the object of the [regional] 6 theory in 

ar ticulated relationship with the other objects whose system 

^titutes the existing field of scientific objectivity. 

2. The question of the general theory 

re , ain authors have attempted to answer this question, to 
t^ e this problem, with varying degrees of success; some of 
tempts have proven aberrant, others interesting. 


The aberrant attempts: these are, in their way, manifest 
of the existence of the problem, in the very form of fu^ 
aberration. ^ 

Let us mention the biologistic attempt, the psychology 
attempt, the ethoiogistic attempt, the sociologistic attempt h> C 
philosophical attempt. These attempts are distinguished by \hJ 
reductive character: in setting out (or not) to think the differs 
between the theoretical object of psychoanalysis (the uncon 
scious) and some other theoretical object (that of biology, p Sv 
chology, philosophy, etc.), they in fact reduce the object of 
psychoanalysis to the object of these other disciplines. 

The interesting attempts: Freud's own, and, today, Lacan's. 

We find in Freud (in the metapsychological essays, Three 
Essays on Sexuality, and also in Totem and Taboo or 'The Future of 
an Illusion') an attempt to situate the object of psychoanalysis 
with respect to other objects belonging to existing disciplines. 
The interest of Freud's attempts lies in the fact that they are not 
reductive but, rather, differential (consider the theory of the drives 
in its differential relation with the theory of the instincts). One 
may say that the existence of these attempts and their differential 
character are proof that Freud was aware, very keenly aware, of 
the need to think the theoretical object of psychoanalysis within 
the limits of the field of scientific objectivity. His constant refer- 
ences to science, scientific objectivity, and the various sciences 
already in existence, including the myths in which he anticipated 
the future theoretical 'solution' of the problems of psychoanalytic 
theory that would result from the development of some other 
discipline - all this offers direct and indirect evidence (right 
down to certain myths) of Freud's recognition of the need for a 
general theory. Once again, what is remarkable here, in *f 
absence of the theoretical conditions that would have made rt 
possible to constitute this general theory (we are quite possibly 
still at the same stage), is the fact that, even when he had t° 
borrow certain of his concepts from some other discipline (fr°^ 
the sciences, or even from a certain philosophy) in order 
outline this general theory, Freud always conceived it as 
principle distinct from the regional theories from which 
borrowed. He never lapsed into a biological general theory/ 
psychological general theory, or a philosophical general the *^ 
Whence the paradox of his attempt: he had to sketch the br° 

^t; MOTES on the theory of discourses 43 

f a general theory that intended to be a general theory 
outlfrf j ts function was concerned, and did not intend to be 
& *°. far as its content was concerned. Freud reproduced, in 
° ne m ral theory (the metapsychology), what might be called 
^ 5 ^ eI nulsory solitude of the regional theory, which it is the 
th e c j a general theory, precisely, to eliminate. To say that 
e j> s general theory reproduced his regional theory means 
^ reU . e co ncepts of the general theory are just as 'isolated' as his 
nal theory: instead of furnishing the differential link 
unveen his regional theory and other regional theories, instead 
f serving as general concepts that would make possible several 
afferent regional theories, including the regional theory of psy- 
choanalysis, they express a (hollow) claim to generality rather 
than the reality of this generality in its true, concrete role. These 
concepts reproduce the concepts of the regional theory; they are 
nothing but replicas of it cast in the form of generality - when 
they are not simply concepts of the regional theory decked out 
with a name that assigns them a function in the general theory, a 
function of which this name is not the concept. A single example 
will suffice to illustrate this point: the concept of the death instinct 
(opposed to the Libido) actually belongs to the regional theory; 
by dint of its name, however, it is charged with functions in the 
general theory/ Yet its name does not transform the regional 
concept into a general concept: its name is a programme that 
does nothing more than delimit a function in its very absence. 

Lacan's attempt very lucidly takes up what is best in Freud's. 

I he labour of conceptual denomination that Lacan has carried 

out on the concepts of Freud's regional theory goes beyond the 

imits of the regional theory. This rectified terminology, rendered 

y s ematic and coherent, is one from which Lacan has drawn 

* emely far-reaching theoretical effects (within the regional 

HO; it is an elaboration that could not have been conceived 

u realized without (i) an awareness of the need to elaborate 

ge ^ eneral theory; (ii) a correct 8 conception of the nature of a 

g e a ^eory; and (iii) the beginnings of an elaboration of this 

*tive ( or y- The most spectacular sign of this threefold imper- 

n °t o w hich Lacan is cognizant, is his use of linguistics. Lacan 

*° wh* k erce ty defends the principle, found in Freud, according 

from .£ *he object of psychoanalysis must be differentiated 

at of biology, psychology and philosophy (especially 


phenomenology); over and above this defensive, negative eft 

from that of linguistics and what makes them similar. In shrw 

he makes a positive effort to show, with respect to linguist 
both what distinguishes the (theoretical) object of psychoanalv^' 

he thinks a difference not only in its negative, but also in ■/ 
positive aspect; that is, he thinks a differential relation. And it • 
this differential relation with the object of linguistics that serve* 
him as a fundamental principle for thinking the other different 1 
relations: with the objects of biology, psychology, sociology 
ethology and philosophy. 

It is certainly no theoretical accident if one specific differential 
relation (here, the one that brings the object of linguistics into a 
relation of pertinent difference with the object of psychoanalysis) 
- this relation and no other - turns out to be the right principle 
for bringing out the other differential relations. If this differential 
relation plays this privileged role, it is because it commands the 
others, at least in the present state of thought on the subject. It 
should be added that we can discern, thanks to one of its effects 
(which is usually completely ignored), the function 'general 
theory' which is fulfilled by the recourse to linguistics in the 
conceptual elaboration of the concepts of the regional theory of 
psychoanalysis: for Lacan is led to clarify not only the theoretical 
concepts of the regional theory of psychoanalysis, but also 
certain theoretical concepts of the regional theory of linguistics 
itself. What we see here is a specific effect of any general theory: 
whenever it clarifies a given regional theory about itself, helping 
it to formulate and rectify its concepts, it necessarily has the sami 
effect of rectification-reclassification on the concepts of the other 
regional theory brought into play in this operation of differential 
definition. The linguists have perhaps not yet realized what they 
owe, in their own discipline, to an undertaking that apparent 
has no bearing on it. Yet what we see here is a standard effect o 
any general theory: in setting out to develop one regional theory 
by confronting it with another, it rectifies-reclassifies the co 
cepts that it brings to bear (the concepts of the regional theory 
not only in the theory that is to be rectified, but also in ^ 
theory that does the rectifying; not only in the theory wo* 
on, but also in the theory that is put to work. . tf 

However, this effect brings a rather severe disadvantage & t 
wake if one fails to see that it is a question of the elaboration 

KEE notes on the theory of discourses 


al theory, if one believes that what is involved is simply 
a g en i theories and their simple confrontation (as if everything 
xep° y n g place between two regional theories, without the 
Were ention of a third element, which, precisely, is not located 
h same level, in other words, is not regional, but is a theory 
a * co rnpletely different kind, since what is involved is a third 
ent, precisely the general theory). If this is not clear, and 
e j y conceived, one can be misled into thinking that what 
C urs in this confrontation is wholly due to one of the two 
eional theories. One might suppose that it is psychoanalysis 
which holds the keys to linguistics, or the other way round; one 
might suppose that one regional theory (that of psychoanalysis 
or linguistics) is the general theory of the other. This misperception 
will then give rise to an ideology that is either linguistic or 
psychoanalytic (as occurs frequently, because this is hard to 
avoid); it will lead one to say (and, worse, to think) that, for 
instance, linguistics is the mother-discipline of the human sci- 
ences, or that psychoanalysis is. 

Despite all the precautions Lacan has taken, one cannot say 
that he - or, in any case, some of his disciples - is not tempted 
by this ideological misperception. Witness, for instance, the issue 
of La Psychanalyse on 'Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences/ 9 
and the positions Lacan has taken [vis-^-vis] the work of L6vi- 
Strauss, as well as certain themes that he develops in discussing 
the history of the Sciences [and] Descartes, or the (highly 
ambiguous) use to which he puts the thought of certain philoso- 
phers (Plato, Hegel, Heidegger). It is quite striking that the use 
w Wch Lacan puts linguistics in elaborating the concepts of the 
Psychoanalytic regional theory is totally exempt from the effects 
nusperception which haunt these examples. This tends to 
P ove that the general theory towards which Lacan is working, 
tor the elaboration of which he provides certain basic 
sin entS ' * S not P ei "f ect ly situated in its status of general theory, 
' or example, what Lacan withholds from linguistics with 
Stra ^^ w ^ enever he deals with it explicitly, he grants L£vi- 
it : ^ wit h the other, and, as it were, surreptitiously - although 
fipjj . Vl0u s that L£vi-Strauss imports linguistics into his own 
Wh at an ex tremely summary, non-critical way that has nothing 
La Ca ^ Ver t° do with the kind of 'importation' that we find in 

which is, precisely, critical, differential importation). 


Although Lacan treats the relations between linguistics 
psychoanalysis in a way that is epistemologically correct^ 
assigns the (incorrect) use of linguistics by L£vi-Strauss the t 
and responsibility of 'mediating' the relationship between rk! 
choanalysis and the other Human Sciences. ^ 

This entails the following ambiguity: either linguistics is «, 
general theory of the Human Sciences, or psychoanalysis (alliJ! 
to linguistics, which it is supposed to have brought back to ♦* 
origins) is the general theory of the Human Sciences, The exist 
ence and perpetuation of this ambiguity, whose effects are visibl 
(the relations of psychoanalysis or linguistics to the Human 
Sciences), are the manifestation of the objective limits that Lacan 
has reached in his effort to elaborate a general theory, the 
necessity for which he lucidly perceives. It would be facile to 
explain these limits (and the effects of misperception to which 
they give rise) as the limits of an individual effort which, 
however brilliant it may be, is too 'caught up' in the labour of 
regional elaboration to attend as closely as it should to the 
labour of general elaboration whose absolute necessity Lacan 
nevertheless very clearly perceives. Such an explanation has to 
do with the personal history of Lacan's investigation. We need 
to examine this matter in the light of very different principles, 
and to say that the existence of these limits is in fact the sign of 
a limitation in Lacan's conception of the nature of a general theory. 
Going beyond these limits plainly calls for something other than 
an experience that is internal to the psychoanalytic regional 
theory and the linguistic regional theory: what is required is 
general epistemological views, that is, a well-defined, correct 
philosophical conception that effectively embraces the specific 
object known as a general theory. 10 Only if one has such a 
conception is one likely to take up and pursue the following tee- 
the idea that the general theory of psychoanalysis, the one whicn 
it requires and for which its regional theory calls, cannot 1# 
developed solely by means of the differential 'confrontation 
(and its general-theory 'effects') between the regional theory °* 
linguistics and the regional theory of psychoanalysis; that * 
must be developed in a very different perspective, by means of ve*/ 
different confrontations, through the intervention of very dif* ef * 
ent regional theories and their differential relations, with t& 
help of a very different reclassification which, precisely, ca *^ 

EE n otes on the theory of di 


Hon the objects affected by the limitation described 
into °P^ e famous Human Sciences. 

a bo ve ~ . t ^at we look for the general theory of psychoanalysis 

* which makes it possible to constitute the regional theory 

in t^ a ^course of the unconscious as both a discourse and a 

ot "* r £/# unconscious - that is, in not one but two general 

^ iSC0 . w hose articulation we need to think. 

theories^ vv 

3. The character of the unconscious 

T determine the nature of the theoretical elements that must be 
ssembled in order to constitute the general theory of psychoa- 
nalvsis^ we have to set out from the characteristics of the object 
of the regional theory of psychoanalysis: the unconscious. 

It is well known that this regional theory has been developed 
on the basis of observations and experiences provided by the 
practice of the cure as well as observations provided by other 
phenomena external to the cure (the effects of the unconscious 
in 'everyday' life, art, religion, and so on). 

We can characterize the unconscious as follows: 

(a) The unconscious is manifested, that is, exists in its effects, 
both normal and pathological: 11 these effects are discerni- 
ble in dreams, all the various forms of symptoms, and all 
the different kinds of 'play' (including 'wordplay'). 

(b) This manifestation is not that of an essence whose effects 
are its phenomena. That which exists is the mechanisms of 
a system that functions by producing these effects. These 
mechanisms are themselves determinate. It may be said 
that, in the narrow sense of the word, that which exists is 
the formations of the unconscious - in other words, the 
determinate systems that function by producing certain 
determinate effects. 'The unconscious' designates nothing 
other than the theoretical object which allows us to think 
the formations of the unconscious, that is, systems func- 
tioning in accordance with mechanisms producing effects. 

W The unconscious is a structure (or system) combining 
determinate elements subject to determinate laws of com- 
bination and functioning in accordance with determinate 


(d) The unconscious is a structure whose elements 
signifiers. r * 

(e) Inasmuch as its elements are signifiers, the laws of comu- 
nation of the unconscious and the mechanisms of 4 J 
functioning depend on a general theory of the signify 

(f) Inasmuch as these signifiers are the signifiers of the unco* 
scious, not of some other system of signifiers (for exampU 
language [la langue], ideology, art, science, etc.), th' 
unconscious depends 12 on the general theory that allows 
us to think this specific difference. What this general 
theory is is a question we shall provisionally leave in 
abeyance, but it does not seem as if a general theory of 
the signifier can by itself produce (by deduction) the 
specific difference that distinguishes the discourse of sci- 
ence from the discourses of ideology, art, and the uncon- 
scious. It should make this difference possible through the 
play of the possible variations inscribed in the theory of 
discourse - but it cannot construct it. 

(g) In order to determine which general theory will allow us 
to specify the difference that produces the characteristic 
form of the discourse of the unconscious as distinct from 
other forms of discourse, we must try to bring out this 
difference by a process of reduction, and then compare it 
to what the theory of the signifier is capable of producing 
as the required theoretical effect. 

(h) If we compare the different existing forms of discourse - 
that is, the forms of unconscious discourse, ideological 
discourse, aesthetic discourse and scientific discourse - 
we can demonstrate the existence of a common effect: ever}) 
discourse produces a subjectivity-effect. Every discourse has, 
as its necessary correlate, a subject, which is one of th g 
effects, if not the major effect, of its functioning. Ideologi- 
cal discourse 'produces' or 'induces' a subject-effect, a 
subject; so do the discourse of science, the discourse ot 
the unconscious, etc. 

(i) The theory of the production of the subjectivity-effect f*H 
within the province of the theory of the signifier. 

(j) If we compare the various subject-effects produced by t* 1 
different forms of discourse, we observe that (i) ^ 
relationship these subjects bear to the discourses in q ue ^ 

EE notes on the theory of discourses 49 

on is n0 * ^ e same; (") * n ot her words, the subject position 
'produced' or induced by the discourse vis-^-vis that dis- 
burse varies. Thus the ideological subject in person forms 

rt f ideological discourse, is present in person in it, since 
[f is itself a determinate signifier of this discourse. We 
observe that the subject of scientific discourse, in contrast, 
is absent in person from scientific discourse, for there is no 
signifier designating it (it is an evanescent subject which 
is inscribed in a signifier only on condition that it disappear 
from the [signifying] chain the moment it appears there - 
otherwise science slides into ideology). The subject of 
aesthetic discourse may be said to be present in aesthetic 
discourse through the mediation of others [par personnes inter ■- 
posies] (always in the plural). The subject of unconscious 
discourse occupies a position that is different from all 
those described so far: it is 'represented' in the chain of 
signifiers by one signifier which 'stands in' for it [qui en 
tient lieu], which is its 'lieu-tenant' [son lieu-tenant]. Thus it 
is absent from the discourse of the unconscious by 'dele- 
gation' [par 'lieu-tenance']. The theory of the signifier, which 
must account for the subject-effect of every discourse, must 
also account for these different forms of the subject as so 
many possibilities of variation of the subject-form. 
(k) The differential nature of the subject-effect, and the place 
(position) that the subject which it characteristically 'pro- 
duces' as an effect occupies with respect to a given 
discourse, must be correlated with assignable differences of 
structure in the structures of that discourse. In other 
words, the structure of scientific discourse must differ 
from the structures of ideological discourse, aesthetic 
discourse, and the discourse of the unconscious. It is this 
difference of structure which allows us to characterize 
(and designate) the different discourses differently; in 
other words, it is this difference which makes it possible 
to talk about scientific discourse on the one hand and 
ideological discourse on the other, about aesthetic dis- 
course and the discourse of the unconscious. 

For example: ideological discourse, in which the sub- 
ject-effect is present in person and is thus a signifier of 
^s discourse, the main signifier of this discourse, pos- 


sesses a structure of speculary centring} the subject in<j u 
is duplicated by a producing subject (the empirical suf^ 
is duplicated by the transcendental subject, the iJ 
subject by God, etc.). 

For example: scientific discourse, in which the subject 
effect is absent in person and thus is not a signifier of tfv 
discourse, possesses a decentred structure [une structu 
de dtcentration] (that of a system of abstract relations, whos* 
elements are concepts, none of which is 'constituent': a 
soon as a concept becomes 'constituent', we are in the 
realm of ideological discourse). 

For example: aesthetic discourse, in which the subject- 
effect is present through the mediation of others (by way 
of a combination of several signifiers), possesses an ambigu- 
ous structure of cross-references, in which each presumable 
'centre' is such only by virtue of the presence, that is, the 
negation of some other 'centre', which stands in the same 
relation of indecision [indecision] with regard to the first. 
When the work of art possesses a single centre, it lapses 
from aesthetic discourse into ideological discourse. When 
it evicts every subject from its domain, it lapses into 
scientific discourse. 

For example: [in] the discourse of the unconscious, in 
which the subject-effect is absent by 'delegation 7 , we are 
dealing with a pseudo-centred structure, subtended by a 
structure of flight or 'lack' [beance] (a metonymic structure?). 
(1) It seems that it is at last possible to establish a pertinent 
relation between the structures of these different dis- 
courses on the one hand, and, on the other, the nature of 
the signifiers comprising the characteristic elements of each 
of these structures. 

The signifiers of language [langue] are morphemes 
(material: phonemes). 

The signifiers of science are concepts (material: words)* 

The signifiers of aesthetic discourse are extremely vaf ' 
ied (material: words, sounds, colours, etc.). 

The signifiers of ideological discourse are also vari^ 
(material: gestures, modes of behaviour, feelings, wof^ 
and, generally speaking, any other element of other pf aC * 
tices and other discourses?). 



The signifiers of the unconscious are fantasies 
(material: the imaginary). 

With the reservations required whenever one employs the 
concept function, it may be suggested that the reason for 
the structural specificities (and their subject-effects) has 
basically to do with the specific function of the formations 
f which these structures provide the concept. This func- 
tion can be defined only by the place occupied by the 
signifying structure considered (i) with respect to other 
signifying structures; (ii) with respect to other, non-signi- 
fying structures, and by its articulation with these struc- 
tures (place-articulation). 
(n) Thus we can distinguish different functions: 

• of knowledge (science) 

• of recognition-misrecognition (ideology) 

• of recognition-perception (art?) 

• of a circulation of signifiers (language?) corresponding 
to the different structures. 13 

(o) We may, very cautiously, risk a suggestion as to which 
mode of articulation is at work in the case of the structure 
of the unconscious. 

This mode could well be the following: 

In every social formation, the base requires the sup- 
port-[Triiger] function as a function to be assumed, as a 
place to be occupied in the technical and social division 
of labour. This requirement remains abstract: the base 
defines the Trflger-functions (the economic base, and the 
political or ideological superstructure as well), but the 
question of who must assume and carry out this function, 
and how the assumption of it might come about, is a 
matter of perfect indifference to the structure (base or super- 
structure) that defines these functions: it 'doesn't want to 
know anything about it' (as in the army), 

It is ideology which performs the function of desig- 
nating the subject (in general) that is to occupy this func- 
non: to that end, it must interpellate it as subject, pro- 
viding it with the reasons-of-a-subject for assuming the 
u nction. Ideology interpellates individuals by constitut- 
n g them as subjects (ideological subjects, and therefore 
subjects of its discourse) and providing them with the 


reasons-of-a-subject (interpellated as a subject) for assu^ 
ing the functions defined by the structure as function * 
of-a-Trciger. These reasons-of-a-subject appear expli C [« 
in its ideological discourse, which is therefore necessaril 
a discourse that relates to the subject to which it ; 
addressed, and therefore necessarily includes the subject 
as a signifier of this discourse; that is why the subject 
must appear in person among the signifiers of ideology 
cal discourse. In order for the individual to be consfr 
tuted as an interpellated subject, it must recognize itself 
as a subject in ideological discourse, must figure in it : 
whence a first speculary relation, thanks to which the 
interpellated subject can see itself in the discourse of 
interpellation. But ideology is not a commandment 
(which would still be a form of the 'I don't want to know 
anything about it'); this recognition is not an act of pure 
force (there is no such thing as pure force), not a pure 
and simple injunction, but an enterprise of conviction- 
persuasion: accordingly, it must provide its own guarantees 
for the subject it interpellates. The centring structure of 
ideology is a structure of guarantee, but in the form of 
interpellation, that is, in a form such that it contains the 
subject it interpellates (and 'produces' as an effect) in its 
discourse. Hence the duplication of the subject within the 
structure of ideology: God, in His various forms. 'I am 
that I am', the subject par excellence, Who provides the 
subject the guarantee that He is truly a subject, and that 
He is the subject Whom the Subject is addressing: 'I have 
shed this particular drop of blood for you'; 'God trieth 
the hearts and reins' (compare the speculary relations or 
the same order [between] the transcendental subject/ 
transcendental logic and the empirical subject/ formal 
logic), and so on. 

Ideology is articulated with the economic and politic* 1 
structures in that it enables the 'Trager '-function to &&' 
Hon by transforming it into a subject-function. 

It would be interesting to examine the case of *** 
Triiger-hinction of ideology. A reduplication function 
ideology exists which enables the Trager of the ideolog 1 
as such to be transformed into a subject, that is, an i&eowo" 


Si^OT^tl**! www.wenqewang.orq 

h rEE notes on the theory of discourses 53 

f tf te ideologue: we should try to establish whether Marx 
did not take this reduplication for ideology itself 14 (with 
all the illusions that that would involve), and whether this 
reduplication is not (at least under certain circumstances) 
one of the elements of the articulation of scientific dis- 
course with the ideological (when an ideologue 'advances 7 
in the direction of scientific discourse through the 'cri- 
tique' of ideology, which is then conflated with the cri- 
tique of the ideology of the ideologue, of the 
Triiger-function of ideology). 

I would propose the following idea: that the subject- 
function which is the characteristic effect of ideological 
discourse in turn requires, produces or induces 13 a 
characteristic effect, the unconscious-effect or the effect 
$ubject-of-the-uncon$cious f that is, the peculiar structure 
which makes the discourse of the unconscious possible. 
The latter function makes it possible for the subject- 
function to be guaranteed amid misrecognition. 

4. On the 'unconscious" 

To begin with, a comment concerning the term 'unconscious' 
itself: it will have to be replaced some day. It has its historical 
justifications: the only way to think the new object discovered 
by Freud was to set out from the categories in which the phenom- 
ena it designates had been either thought or ignored until then - 
tila t is, to set out from the vocabulary used for consciousness. 
Ane term 'unconscious' bears within it the marks of that which 
^ a a to be jettisoned, that from which a distance, or more 
istance, had to be taken. The more Freud advanced in his 
eoretical thinking, the greater this distance grew; yet the 
^inal label' [appellation d'origine] remained. It is certain that 
w t rm unconsc i°us' is to a large extent neutralized in Freud's 
/ that it has only negative connotations there, and that these 
tin ] Ve connota hons are drowned out by the positive connota- 
e * We cannot be sure that this term did not have a deep 
w nce °n at least the first topography, and on certain ele- 
With fk second as well: on the articulation of the system ucs 

it ^ e s ystem perception-conscious, and so forth. In any event, 
a d a particularly deleterious effect on the interpretation 


of Freud, especially by the philosophers of consciousness (p 
itzer, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty) who have attempted to appropri* 
Freud and draw him into their camp - on the philosophy 
especially, but on certain psychoanalysts too; let us mention oni 
the school of Anna Freud and company, with its stress 
reinforcement of the ego (identified with consciousness). On 
day this term will have to be changed, but it won't be easy, u 
any case, from now on, we have to be wary of all its resonances 
which go well beyond the field of psychoanalysis: consider, for 
example, the use to which Levi-Strauss puts the unconscious m 
ethnology - L6vi-Strauss and the 'structuralists' We can no more 
talk about a psychoanalytic unconscious than we can, in the strict 
sense, talk about a social unconscious. 

I take up the thread of my discussion again. 

Ideological discourse (which is the discourse of everyday life, 
as Freud so perspicaciously noted, the discourse of 'experience' 
and the discourse in which the dream is narrated) - ideological 
discourse induces 17 an ideological subject-effect (as all discourse 
induces a subject-effect specific to it) inasmuch as ideological 
discourse interpellates individuals, is addressed to individuals 
in order to bring them to assume the Trciger functions required 
by the various levels of the social structure. We have seen that 
the form in which ideological discourse interpellates individuals 
is a form of the kind that allows the interpellated subject to 
recognize himself 1 * and recognize his place in this discourse/ 9 
even as it offers him the guarantee that he is truly the one being 
interpellated, and by someone , another Subject, that Name of 
Names (this is the definition of Man in Feuerbach, which takes 
up . . whose definition of God - is it that of St 2() Dionysius the 
Areopagite?), who is the centre from which every interpellation 
emanates, the centre of every guarantee, and, at the same time/ 
the Judge of every response. 

The interpellation of ideological discourse is such that it ^ 
destined to underwrite recruitment via the guarantee it offers tn e 
recruits. Recruiting ideological subjects, ideological discotff^ 
establishes them as ideological subjects at the same time that 
recruits them. Thus, in one and the same act, it produces t* 1 
subjects that it recruits as subjects, establishing them as subje<^ 
The circularity of the ideological structure and its specula*/ 
centredness are a reflection of the duplicity (in both senses of 



c this act. In ideology, all questions are thus settled in 
W° r ' j n the nature of things, since ideological discourse 
a ^ VilJ pilates-^onstitutes the subjects of its interpellation by pro- 
.f. them in advance with the answer, all the answers, to the 
• ed question that its interpellation contains. Hence the ques- 
• in it are feigned questions, mere speculary reflections of 
^ answers that pre-exist the questions. Ideological discourse 
kes sense only as interpellation: it does not ask the question: 
n there exist subjects to assume the functions of Trager? If it did 
it would risk not receiving an answer. It sets out from the 
Iready resolved question, that is, from an answer that is not the 
answer to a question, for the question does not by any means 
fall under the jurisdiction of ideological discourse. Ideological 
discourse 'sets out', if I may put it that way, from the premises 
that subjects exist - or, rather, it is that which makes these 
subjects exist, consenting to only one operation, which is, it must 
be said, essential to its economy: guaranteeing this existence for 
the subjects established by a Subject Who interpellates them and 
simultaneously summons them before the bar of His judgement. 
Only a 'subject presumed to exist' is ever interpellated - pro- 
vided with 21 his identity papers so that he can prove that he is 
indeed the subject who has been interpellated. Ideology func- 
tions, in the true sense of the word, the way the police function. 
It interpellates, and provides the interpellated subject with /asks 
the interpellated subject for his identity papers, without provid- 
m g its identity papers in return, for it is in the Subject-uniform 
which is its very identity. 

That is why we may say that ideological discourse recruits by 

lt self producing the subjects that it recruits. It solves the problem 

e voked in the old complaint of military men - what a pity 

lers ar e recruited only among civilians - because the only 

fliers it ever recruits are already in the army. For ideological 

s , Course ' there are no civilians, only soldiers, that is, ideological 

jects. The structure requires Trager: ideological discourse 

ass" ^ em * or ** ^ interpellating individuals as subjects to 

the *^ e ^ unc ^ ons °f Trager. The conscription carried out by 

not cture i s blank, abstract, anonymous: the structure does 

[J , care to know who will assume the functions of Trager. 

u a | s . & lca l discourse provides the who: 22 it interpellates individ- 

the general form of the interpellation of subjects. Thus it 


is personal, 'concrete'; it is not blank, but, as the id eo i 
'mass' industry explicitly says, 'personalized' °Sy ^ 

I would like to put forward the following propositi 
interpellation of human individuals as ideological subjects prod *^ 
specific effect in them, the unconscious-effect, which enable k^ a 
human individuals to assume the function of ideological swfc-* 8 * 

This thesis does not present itself in the form of a gene*- 
is not a matter of demonstrating the engendering or filiation of '* 
unconscious by the subject-effect of ideological discourse 
more than it is a question of demonstrating the engenderin ^ 
filiation of the structure of the political by the economic stni * 
ture, or of the ideological structure by the economic and th 
political. It is a matter (i) of observing the existence of an 
unconscious-effect that constitutes an autonomous structure; and 
(ii) of thinking the articulation of this structure with the structure 
of the ideological. 23 The type of reflection to which I appeal here 
is in every respect similar to the one by means of which Marx 
situates the different instances and thinks their articulation, 
without concerning himself with the genesis of one instance by 
the others. It is essential to make this clear in order to avoid 
straying into psychologism or 'sociologism', whether culturalist 
or of some other kind; they have nothing but geneses in mind. 

We shall say, then, that we observe the existence of a specific 
instance, that of the unconscious; that the unconscious is 'struc- 
tured like a language', and thus constitutes a discourse made 
possible by the existence of a certain number of sigrrifi ers of a 
peculiar kind (which, generally speaking, are not words), * 
discourse which is subject to the general laws of discourse an 
which, like any discourse, produces or induces a subject-efj^ 1 ' 
We shall say that the discourse of the unconscious p 1 " ^ 065 . 
'subject' that is 'ejected' from the discourse of which it & 
subject, and features in it by delegation (a signifier represent $ 
there, in the Lacanian sense). We shall say that the eX ^* er ^\ jt 
this discourse of the unconscious, and of the specific subj ^ 
induces, is essential to the functioning of the system *^ ian ^ e ct 
which the individual assumes his 'role' of ideological si 
interpellated as an ideological subject by ideological dis c0 ^T^e 

We shall go no further, at least for the time being- And . 
say, as I have just said, that the subject interpellated by i d *^ ^ 
cal discourse 'produces' an effect, the unconscious-ef* e ' 


* to be taken not in the sense of a genesis, but in the 
r od uCtion H fferential articulation. By the same token, if we say 
lef]$e °* a l ^ e tempted to, if only to facilitate matters - that the 
^ a5 we m 'j S essential to the functioning of the ideological 
micofl 5 ^ 10 . not i a pse into functionalism, for functionalism is 
siibj ect ' , t h e simple observation that the unconscious is 
obviate y .^ t ^ e sense f a 'mission', but in the sense of 
'charg e j na ^ on: is 'overloaded' [surchargi]) with several differ- 
° V6 rtions. The terms 'production' and 'essential to ' rep- 
en t run .. m ore than first approximations, introduced not in 
^ n to solve the problem of the constitution of the unconscious, 

or • ^rHpr to think the determinations of its articulation with 
but in oraei ^ 

and in a particular reality. 

We do indeed observe that the unconscious is articulated with 
the ideological subject, and, via this subject, with the ideological. 
This does not mean that the unconscious is articulated with the 
ideological and the ideological subject alone. The effects of the 
unconscious, or formations of the unconscious, exhibit other 
articulations with other realities: for example, a somatic symp- 
tom exhibits the articulation of the unconscious with the body 
[le somatique], even if this effect can 25 also be introduced into (be 
articulated with) the ideological. With this proviso - that articu- 
lation with the ideological is not the sole articulation of the 
unconscious - we observe that it exists, and that it plays a major 
role. (Among the other articulations: look into whether we 
should not also say that the unconscious is articulated with 
other 2 * unconsciouses; this seems to be reflected in the obser- 
on which appears constantly in Freud, especially in connec- 

n with the cure, but which is also common in 'everyday life': 
de* unconsciou ses communicate'. But it would have to be 
artoth m w ^ e ther this articulation of one unconscious with 
in tK j s not P ass by wa Y °f the effects of the unconscious 

Th eolo 8 ica1 -) 27 
k rna f u ' a ^ on of the unconscious with and in the ideological 
art icui a H * n * e foU ow * n g phenomenon, the index of this 

the Unc n " . e ma y say, as long as we distinguish the effects of 
r *ther fr SClous fr° m the mechanisms that produce them - or, 
°f the ulT* ^ mec ' lanism that produces them (the mechanism 
^nscio 00 ^ ^ aS a structure that 'functions') - that the 
SlSa mechanism which 'functions' massively 'on the 


ideological' [H I'ideologique] (in the sense in which one says th 
engine 'runs on petrol' What does this phrase mean? It h ^ 
nates the repetition of the effects of the unconscious in 'situJr*& 
in which the unconscious produces its effects, that is, exLf ► 
typical formations (symptoms, etc)- These 'situations' are oh ^ 
able and definable, just as the effects of the unconscious in th^ 
are observable and definable. The characteristic feature of th ^ 
'situations' is that they are intimately bound up with the form 
tions of the unconscious realized in them. 2 * In other words 
observe that the unconscious exists in the objective^subjecti 
'lived experience' (I employ these terms provisionally) and real 
izes certain of its formations there. What Freud says about the 
manifestations of the unconscious in the varied course of every- 
day life holds, strikingly, for the realization of the formations of 
the neurotic or psychotic unconscious in those 'situations' in 
which a typical effect of the unconscious, a typical formation (or 
one mode of the structure of the unconscious), is realized. This 
is the very principle governing 'repetition': the neurotic always 
finds a way to 'repeat' the same formations of his unconscious 
in 'situations' that are themselves repeated. 

But what is a 'situation'? It is a formation of the ideological, 29 
a singular formation, in which what is 'experienced' is informed 
by the structure (and specified modes) of the ideological; in 
which it is this very structure in the form of the interpellation 
received (and it cannot not be received). When someone 'tells the 
story of his life', describes his feelings in a 'situation he has 
experienced', recounts a dream, and so on, his discourse is 
informed by ideological discourse, by the T who speaks in the 
first person and by the subject before whom he speaks, the Judge 
of the authenticity of his discourse, his analysis, his sincerity 
and so forth. It is also informed by ideological signifi ers (& 
their relations, which produce effects of ideological meaning)/ ^ 
the same act. In an 'experienced' situation (even if it is elC P e 
enced without comment or analysis), ideological < ^ sc °^ t 
always dominates (associating signifiers which, as we n 
already seen, can be something very different from vV ° < j 
'feelings', 'impressions', 30 'ideas', objects, images, open or ex 
orientations, etc.)- ^c 

To say that the unconscious produces its formations, or s 
of them, in concrete 'situations' (of everyday life, family 

EE notes on the theory of 


kolace relations, chance relations, etc.) thus literally 
^ns, w j t produces them in 31 formations of ideological dis- 

jtie^n 5 . formations of the ideological. It is in this sense that we 
c0 vx&' . fa e unconscious reveals the principle of its articula- 
c an ^..^ ^e ideological. It is in this sense that we can say that 

titltl '" / £*ir-i/-4ii'Ync / nn \Aar\\r\ar\T 

tion " conscious 'functions' on ideology. 

^ e ^ formula may be construed still more precisely. As clinical 

nee goes to show, not every ideological formation allows 

e *P e conS cious to 'take hold' [prise]; a selection is made among 

vailable 'situations', or these 'situations' are inflected in a 

h- in direction, or even precipitated, so that the unconscious 

Ce 'take hold' (in the sense in which one says that mayonnaise 

kes hold' [prend]). In other words, the unconscious (a given 

unconscious) does not function on just any formation of the 

ideological, but only on certain formations, those so configured 

that the mechanisms of the unconscious can 'come into play' in 

them, and the formations of the unconscious can 'take hold' in 

them. To go back to a metaphor used above: a given engine does 

not run on just anything, but on petrol if it is a petrol engine, 

and so on. 

So constraints appear which can, on a first approach, be 
termed 'affinities'; they command the choice or precipitation of 
the 'situations' in which the formations of a given unconscious 
can 'take hold' The articulation of the unconscious with the 
ideological can thus be described more precisely: it is never 
general, but always selective-constitutive, subject to constraints 
etined by the type of unconscious involved (here, the type of 
eurosis and its variations, the type of psychosis and its vari- 

_ ons). 3 All of this can easily be shown to reflect the realities of 

psychoanalytic clinic and the experience of the cure, 
ideal Vei ^ a PP rox i m ate language, it may be suggested that the 
Un S 1 ™ formations in which the formations of a particular 
its t^f ^ take hold ' constitute the 'material' 34 (informed in 
take h m , w h* c h certain typical formations of this unconscious 
' 0r mati Thus it would be by way of these ideological 

Fr euc j ns am °ng others that, in the phenomenon described by 
* ere nce nconsc * ou ses 'communicate'; the situation of the trans- 
°^ v iousl ° U come about in this way as well. This point must 
^ e finitio dev eloped, since it calls for careful conceptual 

and refinement: the category of 'material' is patently 


insufficient. It has the major disadvantage of occulting the f 
a very important fact - that the discourse of the unconscin ^ 
produced in and through ideological discourse, the fragi^J^ ** 
ideological discourse in which the discourse of the uncoitsci °* 
'takes hold', even while it is absent from this discourse. I^d 0Us 
ideological discourse serves the discourse of the unconsciou > 
question as a symptom. 35 In the ideological discourse thus cK^ 
sen, 'it speaks' [$a cause; (a, which means 'it or that', also m* °" 
'id'; cause can also mean 'causes'], that is, utters a discourse th 
is different from ideological discourse, a discourse that displ av 
a crucial particularity: it does not have the same 'subject' as th 
'subject' of ideological discourse. 36 

If the foregoing is correct, we may deduce from it the idea 
that analysis of the elements comprising the formations of the 
unconscious realized in ideological discourse cannot not show 
that these component elements (or some of them) include not 
only fragments of ideological discourse, but also its structure 
and basic categories (for example, the centred speculary relation 
and the categories of the Subject in the twofold sense of their 
relation). Would it not be possible to reformulate the problem of 
the status of certain categories that feature in the Freudian 
topographies on the basis of this remark? The ego that says T is 
obviously closely akin to the 'subject' of ideological discourse; 
the 'superego' is closely akin to the Subject who interpellates 
every ideological subject in the form of a subject. 37 On the other 
hand, the 'id' does not feature in the structure of ideological 
discourse, since the id is what is realized there. 38 On the other 
hand, the structure of the discourse of the unconscious is entirely 
different from the structure of ideological discourse, since uncon- 
scious discourse is not centred, and since the 'subject' or tn 
unconscious does not appear in person in the discourse of ^ 
unconscious, but by 'delegation' The question we might as , 
although I do so only very cautiously - is whether someth^S 
the structure of ideological discourse is not 'taken up' ^ 
structure of the discourse of the unconscious, with, howeve / 
utterly different status hinging, precisely, on the structure o 
discourse of the unconscious: this would be, in the form o ^ 
radical absence whose presence in person in the structu** ^ 
ideological discourse marks the contrast that distinguish 6 ^ 
two, Lacan's big Other, which is the true 'subject' W 

EE notes on the theory of discourses 61 

t le sujet] of the discourse of the unconscious. The big 
pfOp refn hc Y\ speaks in the discourse of the unconscious, would 
^ ' ot the subject of the discourse of the ideological - God, 
^gn be, ^^ so on _ k ut ^ dj scourse f the ideological itself, 

^ e hed as the subject of the discourse of the unconscious, 
e \ blished in the specific form of the subject of the discourse 
eS unconscious, that is, as an effect of this discourse, present 
°f *£ jgnifiers of this discourse as absent by representation in a 
in Jaifie S r (present-absent by 'delegation').*' 
S t all this, there is no question of genesis or the straight- 

rward identification of categories. What seems to be in ques- 
ts the articulation of one structure with another: and, in this 

ticulation as in all others, the articulation exhibits the peculiar 
feature of bringing certain categories of one structure into play in the 
other, and vice versa (just as, in mechanics, certain parts of the 
apparatus [dispositif] 'overlap' or 'encroach on' the other appara- 
tus). 411 The categories that overlap with the others, and the way 
they overlap, as well as the significance they take on as a result 
of the position conferred upon them in the new structure, must 
be thought with reference to this new structure, not the structure 
to which they belonged prior to or outside of this articulation. 
This would make it possible to understand how certain struc- 
tural elements (or categories) can belong simultaneously to the 
structure of the discourse of the unconscious and the structure 
of the discourse of the ideological, and how certain structural 
relations (for example, centring) can belong simultaneously to 
uje structure of the discourse of the ideological and the discourse 
the unconscious - but, in each case, in a different position 
*gned by the structure with which these structural categories 
relations 'overlap' (consider the ego, the superego, the big 
p r ' etc )- Finally, this would allow us to understand why 
Co Was t° some extent justified in bringing psychoanalytic 

those S 0t fl "' k ut on ty some psychoanalytic concepts; doubtless 
erta |>'iP rec * Se *y' which 'overlap') to bear on ideological phenom- 
(altho 5 8*on, or even on certain effects of aesthetic discourse 
Pinall .^ not reflect on the specific reasons for doing so). 
to Pose tK * S W0u ^ allow us - not to solve, nor doubtless even 
^^reti • P r °bl em ' that is thrown up again and again by most 
**°ns a s *H ^ S °^ P s y c h° ana ly s is ( a f ew rar e, remarkable excep- 
t- that of the establishment or irruption of the uncon- 


scious in the child. We have excluded any and all forms 
problematic of genesis, the other face of the ideology of gi ^ 
that dominates this concept. But everything that wea ^ 
appearance of a before and an after (the pre-Oedipal sta^ ^ 
Oedipus complex) can lead us to replace the problem of 
genesis of the unconscious with another, seemingly legUj 
problem: the problem of irruption, the problem of the coni* 
tion of the different elements that 'take hold 7 in the child in hT 
form of the unconscious. I do not think that we can state th- 
problem in the form of a problem; we can only set out the element 
which are present and 'preside' over the conjunction that 'talc** 
hold' in the form of the unconscious. But we have to employ th 
word 'preside' in the sense of the function exercised by a 
president - a function which, by definition, is always exercised 
at a certain distance. A president does not get his hands dirty. 

The elements involved exist in the characters of the familial 
theatre, the familial situation: an ideological 'situation' in which 
are produced, as constitutive of this 'situation', the effects of the 
articulation of the mother's and father's unconscious with and 
in the structure of this ideological situation. Unconsciouses artic- 
ulated with the ideological, unconsciouses articulated with each 
other by way of (in) their articulation with the ideological: this 
is what constitutes the 'situation' that presides over the establish- 
ment of the unconscious in the child. That very different forms 
can present themselves here is quite obvious: different uncon- 
sciouses articulated in different ways, different articulations with 
different sequences of ideological discourse - nothing could be 
more obvious. That there exists a relation between, on the one 
hand, the configuration of these articulations, which are arh&' 
lations of discourse and subjects of discourse (the discourses being 
of different orders: the discourse of the ideological, the discov*** 
of the unconscious; the subjects being of different orders 
subjects of each of these discourses), and, on the other han^' „ 
way the different phases and their articulations are defif ie ~ 
this may be presumed. Showing it and proving it is ati° p 
matter. The mechanism of the establishment of the unconSC h iid 
cannot be observed, except in certain of its external effects \ 
psychology it la Spitz), which, as observable effects, can s 
times (only sometimes!) be brought [into relation] with a c 
This cause is, however, itself always a cause-effect - for ins 

tie^ ature or the cause in person, we nave no cnoice out 

et a* th , backwards from the results - from, precisely, the 

? ptoc st j^jted unconscious and the recognizable elements 

already ^ e pj a y Q f ^jg unconscious - bringing these 



• u r of the mother, her presence-absence; we can never 
^ e b^^ nature of the cause in person. We have no choice but 
;e t 

o I 
Ire- . 

rtic ula indicative relation with the elements that are present, 

eleTTie that I have just mentioned. It is unlikely that we will 
* e °h able to go much further: we can analyse the elements at 
eVef o ends of the chain, as well as their articulation, with ever 
r precision and rigour - the elements that preside over the 
^blishment of the unconscious, and the elements that are 
eS bined and ordered in the unconscious once it is established 

because all this is open to observation and analysis. I doubt, 
however, that we will ever be able to penetrate the mechanism 
bv which the unconscious is established, except by dint of a 
theoretical hypothesis, which escapes observation and whose 
validity will depend on other theoretical elements. 

5. Once again: the general theory on which the regional theory 
of the theoretical object of psychoanalysis depends. 

(I shall use the abbreviations GT for 'general theory' and RT for 
'regional theory'.) 

To the extent that the theoretical object of psychoanalysis is 

the unconscious, and to the extent that this unconscious has the 

structure of a discourse, the general theory on which the RT of 

Psychoanalysis depends is the GT of the signifier. The GT of the 

^gnifier should be distinguished from the RT of language [la 

8 ue \- In the case of language, we are dealing with a theoretical 

ject whose elements are undoubtedly signifiers, but these 

gnitiers are morphemes, the first storey of which consists of 

S i ^ s - Not all signifiers are morphemes; hence there exist 

a re ers w h°se minimal constitutive elements (the first storey) 

of jj et ™ n g other than phonemes. The minimal signifying units 

or t L °8 lca ' discourse, scientific discourse, aesthetic discourse, 

ex arn i 1 f C0Ur se of the unconscious can be morphemes (for 

^hiris m sc * en tifi c discourse, although mathematical algo- 

^ e olop. re not mor phemes; for example, in certain formations of 

*s ew a "bourse or aesthetic discourse; or again, considered 

s among others in one and the same discursive forma- 


Hon - for example, in aesthetic discourse or the discourse 
unconscious), but these signifying units are not always or ^ 
sively morphemes. The theory of language (linguistic the * C '^ 
thus an RT of the GT of the signifies like the theory * ** 
different types of discourse. This is very important, for it m *^ 
that linguistics cannot be (since it is an RT) the GT of the Rtp^ 
psychoanalysis. °f 

To the extent that the theoretical object of psychoanalysis • 
specific discourse possessing its own signifiers and struct, * 
(with a specific subject-effect), the specificity of analytic H* 
course does not come under the GT of the signifier alone I 
comes under the GT that allows us to think the existence and 
articulation of the different types of discourse. (The specificity of 
each of these discourses can be conceived only on the basis of 
and with regard to, the type of differential articulation that links 
each form of discourse to the others.) This articulation, the theory 
of this differential articulation, depends on the GT that enables 
us to think the place of the different discourses in their articula- 
tion: the GT of historical materialism. To which I should perhaps 
add that the GT of dialectical materialism also comes into play 
in the theoretical conditions required to think the articulation of 
certain discourses with others (for example, the articulation of 
scientific with ideological discourse) and, of course, articulation 
as such between discourses. But what is in question here is a GT 
of another kind, which we shall leave in abeyance for the 

Thus it would seem that we are dealing with a special case 
here. The GT on which the RT of the psychoanalytic objed 
depends would be a specified form of combination of two G 1 * 
the GT of the signifier and the GT of historical materialism, «** 
the second determining the first, or, very precisely, with the secofl 
intervening in the first, that is, being articulated with the ftf st | , 
the sense I have indicated: by providing the first with 'elen^ 1 ' 
categories and structural relations that overlap with the fr 5 ' * 
such a way as to make it possible to characterize the discourse 
the unconscious as a discourse of the unconscious f which c^ 1 ^ 
conceived as such (as being of the unconscious) only t >ecaU \^ c h 
its articulation with ideological discourse, the concept of ^ 
comes under the GT of historical materialism. $ 

Naturally, this case will seem 'special' to us if we cling 



GT mired in the Aristotelian categories of inclusion 
i£ jea °' t Option. On this conception of 'generality', which it 
an d sU s absolutely necessary to reject, the GT maintains 
#e& s , extension with its RTs (since every RT is included in 
^IgtioflS ^ .^ en0U gh t account for an RT). On this 

ll $ Gl/ an RT cannot depend on two GTs; it can depend on 
c ° nCe P There is a lingering echo of this conception, perhaps, in 

les) to take linguistics (regarded as the GT of the signifier) 
^ h GT of the RT of psychoanalysis. One would have to ask 

u5t ° n e suspects is Lacan's temptation (and that of some of his 

*°h rtier the principle of differential articulation does not also 
W lv between GTs, at least in certain cases (there would be very 
nv such cases in the sector known as the Human Sciences), 
nd whether the case that seemed 'special' to us only a moment 
ago is not in fact quite common. In other words, if we do not 
think the possibility of an articulation between GTs, we will 
remain at the level of the parallelism of the attributes and of the 
temptation that constantly accompanies it, the conflation of the 
attributes. The parallelism of the attributes is tempered and 
corrected in Spinoza by the concept of substance: the different 
attributes are attributes of one and the same substance. It is the 
concept of substance which plays the role of the concept of the 
articulation of the attributes (it plays other roles, too, but that is 
one of them). The distinction between attributes is possible only 
on condition that they are articulated. Let us revert to our own 
terminology: the distinction between the GTs (which are our 
attributes) is possible only on condition that they are differentially 
tcw/flferf. We observe one instance of the existence of this 
erential articulation between the signifier-attribute and the 
c ^ory-attribute (*at is, between the GT of the signifier and the 
P h hist orical materialism) in the fact that the RT of the 

G T oMv nalytic ob ^ ect has as its GT a s P edfied articulation of the 
abi y ° lh ° rical materialism with the GT of the signifier. Presum- 
ed b fe eX * St ot ^ er instances where an articulation of the same 
Th Us f^^n different GTs is required to account for an RT. 
scand a i Case °^ the psychoanalytic RT is not a theoretical 
Stance *" ^ exc eption: it appears that it is not an isolated 

** e ^om ^ m k I can take these considerations any further for 
nt - But we can at least test our hypothesis about the 


nature of the GT of the RT of psychoanalysis with resn 
possible effects, some of which can be confronted with real u **& 
First and foremost this thesis would allow us to aP . '^ts 

. assi 8n ' 

object of the psychoanalytic RT its place in the objective fi ^ 
scientificity in its current state. It would no longer be an i i °* 
object, and the concepts used to think this object wou?h ^ 
longer be isolated concepts - an isolation that tends to ^° 
quite apart from the reasons for resisting psychoanalysis alr^' 
noted by Freud (reasons that are articulated both with^ 
discourse of the unconscious and with currently existing in 
logical discourse), the effect of an inexplicable strangeness th 
all those wishing to deny psychoanalysis any claim to scientifi 
ity hold against it, consigning analysis to the realm of magic o 
rejecting it as pure and simple imposture. The claims that the 
object of the RT of psychoanalysis has to scientificity would, this 
time, be manifest, because they would have been stated and 
substantiated, demonstrated by way of their theoretical relations 
with the objects of the neighbouring RTs, and also their relations 
with the GT on which they depend. 

This thesis would justify the core of Lacan's theoretical enter- 
prise: the idea that we have to look to the RT of linguistics for 
that which we require to explain what is at stake in the RT of 
psychoanalysis. But it would provide a way of avoiding what is 
still, perhaps, a temptation in Lacan's enterprise: either to take 
the RT of linguistics for the GT of the signifier, or to take the RT 
of psychoanalysis, as rectified by the RT of linguistics, for the 
GT of the signifier. The GT of the signifier is clearly present in 
the RTs of both linguistics and psychoanalysis, but on the san* 
basis in each case, not in person, as a GT properly so calico- 
What Lacan has given us is very important for the elaboratJ 
of the GT of the signifier, inasmuch as he was the first to moui 
a 'general theory' effect (GT-effect) when he saw the n f > 
compare /rectify the RT of psychoanalysis with the RT of ^S^L 
tics (and vice versa); but the fact remains that he has not cie 
distinguished the GT from the effects of the mutual rectify 
of these two RTs. A GT-effect is not the GT in person, esp . ijy 
if this GT-effect is taken to be an effect of the RT, and esp^tf. 
when this RT is unjustifiably promoted to the rank or ^ 
What Lacan has given us requires both that we disp ^ e 
ambiguities that continue to haunt his enterprise and tn 


GT, some of whose decisive, pertinent GT-effects 

&&* 1IS to grasp. 

u € h^P 3 s would give us a better understanding of certain 

^ i5 f feud's work that are disconcerting, and are turned to 
a5 pects o ^ ends, or dismissed out of hand: let us say, 

v ari° uS a jL e 'cultural' texts (Totem and Taboo, 'The Future of an 
t, r oadly; Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Leonardo da 

Illusion ' ^ oscs anc i Monotheism, etc)< The articulation of the GT 
YtnCh e .^£ er anc j the GT of historical materialism would allow 
i the S1 ^ nt f QT fa e legitimacy of Freud's undertaking, but also 

^^.^.p his theoretical silences, on which ideological dis- 
to criticize i»» o 

bourses have been superimposed. 

This thesis would allow us (I return to Lacan) to understand 

can's predilection for the Traumdeutung, the Witz, and so on. 
That iSy his predilection for those texts in which Freud alludes to 
the forms of the discourse of the unconscious inscribed in the 
forms of ideological discourse whose signifiers are morphemes 
(and the elements that constitute their first storey: phonemes). 
That Lacan brackets the fact that these forms of discourse are 
ideological (he can do so because the signifiers of the Witz are the 
same as those of an ideological discourse whose signifiers are, in 
this case, the signifiers of language) tends to create a kind of 
malaise, which is only intensified by the force of the reasons he 
invokes: why does he say so little about other texts by Freud, 
and so little about certain categories (such as the Superego)? 

Finally, this thesis would allow us to arrive at a better 
conception of the relation between the real object of psychoana- 
yfc practice (the cure) and the theoretical object of the psycho- 

a yhc RT, as a particular relation among many other possible 
Rations, these possible relations being defined by the investi- 
and n *^ e theoretical object of psychoanalysis (the discourse 
, ubject of the unconscious). In this way we would know 
d 0e$ r what w e know already: that the RT of psychoanalysis 
object ° concern the cure alone, but a whole series of real 
obj ect S, J^ asmuch as ^ is the theory of a theoretical, not a real 
fruitful 1S * e oretical distance, which is what makes theory so 
into re 'j Would be increased still further if we brought the RT 

Urid ersta t H n With the GT: this would not onl y allow us to 
Cert ain possibility of (and the conditions for) using 

nc epts employed in the RT outside the cure and the 


effects observable in the psychoanalytic relation (for e\a 
the analysis of art or of such-and-such an ideology, as ^ ^ 
out by Freud), but would also allow us to shed light - soi*^^ 
that is much more paradoxical, yet normal - on certain nk ^8 
ena observable in the cure itself, phenomena that are the so ^ 
difficulties, or are quite simply impenetrable. What this a ^^ 
to the GT would also illuminate in the phenomena of th ^' 
itself are the elements which, originating in ideological disco ^ 
overlap with the discourse of the unconscious, the elements ' 
which the discourse of the unconscious has to 'slip' (under wh- 
it has to 'slip') if it is to be realized: for example, the pheno 
enon of the transference, which cannot be understood if ^ 
neglects the fact that what is in question in it is a repetition of 
the discourse of the unconscious in the structure of the discourse of 
the ideological; for example, categories such as those of the super- 
ego or certain categories of the first topography such as the 
preconscious and conscious, and so forth. 

Finally, this thesis would perhaps allow certain disciplines of 
the human sciences to recognize what they have so far stub- 
bornly denied: that which ties them to the theoretical object 
addressed by psychoanalysis. Since this tie would no longer 
proceed directly by way of the RT of psychoanalysis but, rather, 
by way of the GT on which the RT of psychoanalysis depends, 
the resulting rapprochement would, instead of seeming to 'muti- 
late' the object or objects of the so-called Human Sciences, 
actually open their domain to two GTs combined in such a way 
as to serve as the GT of the RT of psychoanalysis: the GT of the 
signifier and the GT of historical materialism. Two kinds o 
effects would result from this as from any GT: first, effects of tn* 
rectification of concepts; second, effects of the reclassification or tn 
RTs themselves (the drawing of new frontiers, a new status a 
new definition of the object of such-and-such an RT, even _ 
elimination of one or another RT or the addition of a new ' 
which would doubtless finally allow us to confer theoretical*™ 
on certain 'disciplines' that continue to wander about i* 1 
realm of ideological empiricism, or, at least, to confer such s f 
on their subject matter - for example, on 'what is going ° 
psychology or social psychology, and so forth. , ^ 

This would be a way of confirming that the effect o > 
identification and constitution of the GT of psychoanalys 1 


choanalysis a i one ^ u ^ ra ther, all the disciplines 
t int ereS ne reason or another depend - as a result of 
w'hi ch ' i0X and articulation, partially or not - on the GTs 
verlapP^ ^ e com bination-GT of psychoanalysis. A little light 
cotnb^ ^ e ^d on most of the disciplines of the Sciences 
v vould tn - ,^ uman ' j n its turn, the philosophy that 'works' in 
qual» ie . t ^ s dialectical materialism - would, without any 

thc Arrive from this the means to emerge and expand. 
doubt, aen 

Note 2 

The unconscious as a specific discourse. 

(1) The objection runs: if we conceive of the unconscious as 
Lacan's formulation does, as 'structured like a language'; if we 
talk about the 'discourse of the unconscious'; in short, if we treat 
the unconscious as if it were a discourse, even if this discourse 
is said to be 'specific', do we not lose something that is encoun- 
tered in the everyday practice of psychoanalysis, something that 
makes for the irreducibility of the unconscious and prevents us, 
precisely, from reducing it to the mode of a mere discourse: 
namely, the fact that what is in question is not a 'discourse 7 at 
all but, rather, drives, the libido, and the death instinct? 

This objection occurs naturally to practitioners of psychoanal- 
ysis, who do not usually 'recognize' the object of their day-to- 
day practice in the theoretical designation of it as a 'discourse' 
But since Freud's texts themselves oblige them to admit that 
er e are indeed mechanisms in the unconscious that make it 
ething like a discourse, and since Lacan has returned to 
t i exts aR d systematically commented on them, their objection 
Kes the following form: 

oubtless one can say that the unconscious is 'structured 

e a language', but, in stating this property of the uncon- 

° u s, one does not state what is specific to the uncon- 

u s, one only states the laws of a mechanism, formal 

that leave out the very nature of what functions in 

Un e w * tri these laws. What is more, one reduces the 

m , nSCl ° US *° these formal laws: one loses sight of what 

s ! t precisely, the unconscious: namely, the fact that it 


is not just a discourse, and that that which 'speaks' • 
and is therefore present in these formal laws is som e *L>. l * 
other than these laws - the libido and the drives; ^8 

• hence one has to make distinctions. One has to distingxjj k 
so the argument goes, the formal laws (which are esse ' 
tially 'linguistic') from the content, the object of these W 
Thus we would have, on the one hand, the unconscious 
discourse (that is, that which comes under these formal law 
and something else (the drives) which is manifested, which 
is expressed, which 'speaks' in the play of these laws, thai 
is, in this discourse. 

(2) At the heart of this objection, the arguments for which 
should not be taken lightly (for the objection rests on very 
powerful 'obvious facts' generated by analytic practice), we find 
the idea that what is designated by the concept of discourse 
applied to the unconscious cannot account for the specific reality 
of the unconscious. We also find the idea that conceiving of the 
unconscious as a discourse is a reductive operation. At the same 
time, we find a certain 'model' of intelligibility - deployed, 
doubtless, in the form of a critical argument - which suggests a 
distinction between the formal laws governing an object, on the 
one hand, and the essence of that object on the other. 

(3) Confronted with these objections and the theoretical prem- 
isses on which they are based, we can proceed in various ways. 
I propose to take a short cut by throwing out a few random 
remarks about a different object, a different discourse. Take It 
Rouge et le Noir It is an aesthetic discourse. It comprises a series 
of statements presented in a certain order. Its elements are 
words, arranged in a complex order and obeying specific con- 
straints that make this discourse an aesthetic discourse (not a 
scientific or an ideological discourse). 

I maintain that this discourse quite simply is the existence o 
Julien and his 'passion'. We do not have the discourse of ^ 
Rouge on the one hand and, on the other, Julien and his passion- 
Julien's passion, with all its emotional intensity (easily the eq ua 
of the intensity of the drives, for what is it if not those very 
drives, inscribed in a 'discourse' presented by the aesthe 
discourse), does not lie behind or even between the lines of W 
discourse; it is not something other than this discourse, s orn 

rHE notes on the theory of discourses 71 

hat finds expression in its words, or slips in between 
tl^ n £ t IS nothing but this discourse itself, it is indiscernible 
th ein \ Yhe constraints defining this discourse are the very exist- 

fr ° r eofthi3'P assion/ - 

geS t that we bring these remarks to bear on the prop- 

• ■ n that designates the unconscious as a specific discourse. 
° sl t |^ s ca se, the constraints characteristic of unconscious dis- 
se far from being formal laws external to that which func- 
C s when they operate, are, rather, the very forms of existence 

f that which exists in the form of unconscious discourse. There 
■ n0 'on the hither side of and 'on the far side of here. The 
tature of the constraints which define or constitute the discourse 
of the unconscious must be such that this discourse is the very 
existence of what the analyst encounters in his practice: the libido, 
the death instinct, the drives. 

These constraints bear on 

(a) the nature of the elements combined in the utterances of 
unconscious discourse; 

(b) the specific syntax of this discourse (what may be called - 
should we verify this? - its specific structure, which is not 
the same as that of the other types of discourse: scientific, 
ideological or aesthetic). 

(this is a way of saying that each type of discourse is defined 
by a system of specific constraints. It is the specific constraints 
which define the discourse. This level of the 'constraints' defin- 
m g the different discourses should be distinguished from a more 
formal level, that of the laws of language' [langage], which come 
under the general theory of the signifier. One cannot deduce the 
specific constraints defining the different types of discourse from 

e general laws of the Signifier, a theory of which does not yet 

Is t* the form of it that linguistics currently provides is the 

°f*st thing we have to such a theory.) 

.1 ° c °me back to unconscious discourse, and to make it clear 

the constraints defining unconscious discourse are not for- 

libvi ex ternal to the specific object of psychoanalysis, the 

o, we can say something like the following, without risk of 

^ r *His error: 

ne constraints defining scientific discourse are such that it 


constitutes a 'machine' (or a mechanism) that 'functions' i^ « 
a way as to produce the knowledge-effect. ^ 

The constraints defining ideological discourse are such that • 
functions by producing another effect: the recognition-tnisreco^ 
Hon effect. 

And so on. 

Similarly, the constraints defining the unconscious /uncon 
scious discourse are such that it functions by producing u. 

These propositions, in order to be intelligible, presuppose that 
the effect is not external to the mechanism that 'produces' it. The 
point is not to repeat, in inverted form, what we have just 
criticized; the idea of the externality of the libido as a 'cause' 
that finds expression in formal mechanisms. The libido-effect is 
no more external to the unconscious /to unconscious discourse 
than the libido (as cause) is external and anterior to it. The effect 
is nothing other than the discourse itself. If I affirm that uncon- 
scious discourse 'produces the libido-effect', I do so in order to 
show that the libido is so far from being external, anterior or 
transcendent to the forms of 'its' discourse that we can conceive 
of it as the specific effect of that discourse! 

On the one hand, the critique of the externality, anteriority 
and transcendence of the libido vis-a-vis the 'formal laws' that 
govern the functioning of the unconscious 'structured like a 
language' - and, on the other, the presentation of the libido as 
the libido-effect of a mechanism and its functioning - are simply 
two methods of theoretical /polemical exposition and exhibition 
which both aim to make people admit that we can conceive or 
the unconscious in terms of the category discourse without losing 
anything of that which constitutes the specificity of this discourse 
namely, that it is unconscious discourse/ the discourse of the 
unconscious, hence the discourse of the object that cannot 'func- 
tion' without the libido, the death instinct, and the drive being 
always and everywhere in question in it. 

If it is granted that we can apply the category of discourse* 
defined as we have just tried to define it, to the unconscious, then: 

(1) We no longer risk 'losing the libido' in speaking of & 
unconscious as a discourse; we no longer risk relapsing & 
formalism of a linguistic type (the possibility of such formal 
is sustained by the fact that linguistics alone is incapable 

rEE notes on the theory of discourses 73 

ing a theory of the different discourses, although this 
p r ° yft is masked by its claim to provide that theory, on the 
1 t that it can provide a theory of discourse - but no theory 
P te - our se can stand in for a theory of discourses, can replace 
/ deduce it from itself). What really does expose us to the 
l \ . f 'losing the libido 7 is a mistaken conception of the object, 
nS i i^us of the claims of linguistics. If we interpret the phrase 
f un conscious is structured like a language' as one which 
u pposes the deductive application of linguistics to an object 

lied the unconscious, then we are indeed dealing with a 
formulation that is reductive of its specific object, and with the 
loss of the libido. But if, in interpreting the same phrase, we bear 
in mind that that which defines the specific discourse known as 
the unconscious is a definite system of constraints (for which no 
other can be substituted) which is the existence of the libido itself 
(or implies the libido-effect, just as, in the example given above, 
Stendhal's novel is Julien's passion in person), then we do not 
'lose the libido 7 , the libido does not remain outside, external, 
different, transcendent - and, in that case, every enrichment of 
the libido, that is, every elaboration of the concept of the libido, 
can result only from theoretical work on the specific forms of the 
specific constraints that constitute unconscious discourse. 

(2) We are in a position to attempt to think the differential 
articulation of unconscious discourse with its closest 'neighbour', 
the different type of discourse with which it is articulated: 
namely, ideological discourse. This second operation is essential 
to the first. It is closely tied in with the first, for the following 
theoretical reason. 

All definition is differential; one can define an object A only 
through its difference from an object B. This object B, however, 
cannot be an arbitrary object with respect to object A. It must be 

s other, A's 'neighbour'; to be very precise, the object par 
xcellence with which it is articulated, the object whose articula- 
° n w ith A commands our understanding of A's articulations 
W * ot her objects, C, D, and so on. 

1 ghtly identifying the object B of an object A is a theoretical 
/, estl °n of great importance, if by B we mean the object with 

*-U A miic± l\s\ i vt-i y^i i 1 r% br\sA in /~kftA *•%■*• t-r\ Avici- ic A • Ir* ^4-Ia^S** 

e kJ S/ ^ ky B we mean the object whose difference from A 
es us to arrive at the definition of A. 


It is this fundamental question that I propose to answer k 
identifying object B, so conceived, as ideological discourse ~ \yk ^ 
I say that unconscious discourse is articulated with ideology , 
discourse. Naturally it is articulated with other discourses as w 1! 
- with all the other discourses, scientific discourse and aestheti 
discourse. But the articulation of unconscious discourse witk 
scientific and aesthetic discourse is not the main articulation, fo 
these articulations do not enable us to give a differential define 
tion of unconscious discourse. The main articulation of uncon- 
scious discourse (what we might call its essential articulation) Jc 
its articulation with ideological discourse, effected quite diff er , 
ently than in the form of verbal 'representations' 

If this proposition is granted, it becomes possible to under- 
stand the articulation of unconscious discourse with scientific 
discourse (the relation of Marx's or Cauchy's, etc., unconscious 
to their scientific work) or aesthetic discourse (Leonardo da 
Vinci .) as secondary articulations, that is, articulations that pass 
by way of the articulation of unconscious discourse with this or 
that sequence of ideological discourse. This enables us to think 
what Freud was trying to do in his discussions of the great 
works of art (with regard to their authors), and also to under- 
stand why it was literary examples and themes that so pro- 
foundly 'affected' him personally (Oedipus). 

As for the relationship of articulation - not, this time, between 
a given author's unconscious and his work but between, on the 
one hand, a given Freudian concept whose object is the uncon- 
scious and, on the other, a given field of the ideological (moral- 
ity, the ideological phenomena described in connection with 
mass psychology, the army, the Church, etc.) - this relationship 
would become intelligible in principle if we attributed a precise 
content to the articulation of unconscious discourse with ideo- 
logical discourse (in the way I have very rapidly indicated, using 
the concept of overlapping or encroachment, in my Note 'C" 1 

Note 3 

The point on which I currently need enlightenment is 


REE notes on the theory of discourses 


t (vve) have come to the conclusion that it is absolutely 

rial to construct a theory of discourses in order to be able 

esse ,r\Ae a differential definition of the specific discourses 

to P roVld 
Icnov^n as 

. scientific discourse 

. aesthetic discourse 

• ideological discourse 

• unconscious discourse 

rfor the moment, I leave aside philosophical discourse, which 
hould doubtless be distinguished from scientific discourse as 

Our thinking about a number of theoretical problems has 

revealed the need for a theory of discourses: 

(a) The problem of the specific effects of the different dis- 
courses, a problem first encountered in connection with 
the knowledge-effect (see the last part of the preface to 
Reading Capital, where there is a discussion of scientific 
discourse as productive of the knowledge-effect); then in 
connection with other effects, brought out, for example, 
by Badiou in connection with the fictional [romanesque] 
subjectivity-effect, and again in connection with the effect 
of ideological discourse (the effect of recognition-misre- 
cognition). The identification of specific effects has 
revealed the existence of specific discourses as their 

(b) The problem of the 'nature' of the unconscious, which has 
appeared as a consequence of Lacan's work: the idea that 
the unconscious is 'structured like a language' necessarily 
leads to a conception of the unconscious as a specific 

( c ) The problem of the articulation between the different 
levels: between the scientific and ideological, the aesthetic 
and the ideological, and, finally (I have been working on 
this for several months), the articulation between the 
unconscious and the ideological. This articulation 
a Ppears, in the light of initial research and reflection, to 
he an articulation between discourses. 


(2) It then appeared that each of the discourses thus idenn 
was endowed with a specific structure, different from that *** 
others. *** 

It would seem that we can conceive of this differen 
structure as a twofold difference: as a difference in the elem ^ 
constituting the various discourses, and as a difference in u! S 
constraints governing the relationships in which these elem 
stand to one another. * 

As far as the difference between the elements is concerned ■ 
seems that a path has already been cleared for an investigation 
and that this investigation is possible. 

We can say, for example, that the elements of scientific dis- 
course are concepts. At the other extreme, we can say that the 
elements of unconscious discourse are primal fantasies. It is harder 
to designate the elements of ideological discourse with precision 
(I, at least, cannot), because we find different levels in it and also 
because, depending on the level, the elements are (at the most 
abstract levels) representations, or even concepts, and, at other 
levels, gestures, modes of behaviour, or, again, prohibitions and 
permissions, or, yet again, elements borrowed from other dis- 
course, and so on. Similarly, the elements of aesthetic discourse 
seem to vary with the regions of the aesthetic involved. Never- 
theless, despite the difficulties in each case, the principle that 
one should investigate the differential nature of the elements 
seems to be correct. 

I find things more difficult when it comes to what I call the 

I don't know exactly what the concept of constraints designates 
in the world of linguistics. Can someone tell me, and also let m e 
know whether the linguistic use of the term is relevant to tn 
research project we are pursuing? 

With the term constraints, I would like to designate a num^ 
of structural laws characteristic of each of the discourses. J 
example, in the Note I entitled 'On Psychoanalysis', I &&* 
indicate, in connection with the 'subject', that it is possible 
define the structure characteristic of each of the discourses I 
therefore its constraints as well?) on the basis of the tfj 
provided by the place and role of the subject in each of ™ 
Thus I tried to show that the subject of science is 'exclud^ - c 
person' from scientific discourse, that the subject of aestn 

EE notes on the theory of discourses 


is present in it 'through the mediation of others', and 
ji$cou r kj ec t of unconscious discourse is absent from it by 
tttft rion ' (Lacan). The 'place' of the subject in each discourse 
dd e & defined with reference to the structure of each of the 
w* 5 p or example, ideological discourse is centred and 

d^° p or example, scientific discourse has no centre. For 

sp^ j e aesthetic discourse possesses a network of cross-refer- 
eXa between ambiguous centres. For example, the discourse of 
enC consc ious possesses a structure of lack, and so forth. 

S'nce writing that note, I have come round to thinking that 
notion of subject cannot be employed unequivocally, not even as 

index for each of the discourses. Increasingly, the notion of 
ubiect seems to me to pertain to ideological discourse alone, of 
which it is constitutive. I don't believe that one can talk about 
a 'subject of Science' or a 'subject of the unconscious' without 
playing on words and opening the door to serious theoretical 
ambiguities. For example, the way Lacan talks about the subject 
of science in his lecture (Cahiers pour I'Analyse), 41 evoking Cau- 
chy's tragic experiences, and so on, seems to me highly ques- 
tionable. I think he takes the articulation of Cauchy's 
unconscious discourse with his scientific practice for the 'subject 
of science' 

That a scientist's unconscious discourse always comes into 
play (and that this is always a wrenching experience) when he 
establishes a new form of scientific discourse in a given disci- 
pline (discoveries) is one thing; it is a fact that no scientist can 
pronounce and then wrestle with a given scientific discourse 
without the discourse of his unconscious coming into play in his 
e nunciation. But it is only at the price of an unwarranted 
lation °f two different things that one can evoke the dis- 

urse of science in a discussion of this articulation of the 

conscious discourse of X with the enunciation of a scientific 
ourse. There is no such thing as a subject of science as far as 
Pre ^course, scientific statements, are concerned - which, 

kind ^' are susta " le ^ by th e f act that they can do without any 
hist ° , su ^ ect - an y more than there are individuals 'who make 
seem ' m * e ideological sense of that proposition. Similarly, it 
Un to me unwarranted to talk about the 'subject of the 
Aixfy , Cl °us' in connection with the lch-Spaltung. There is no 
0r split subject, but something else entirely; alongside the 


Ich, there is a Spaltung, that is, literally, an abyss, a precin* 
absence, a lack. This abyss is not a subject, but that which ^ ^ 
up alongside a subject, alongside the Ich, which is well and tn^ 8 
subject (and falls within the province of the ideological; Fr*> ^ a 
seems to me, gives us the necessary grounds for thinking th * 
a number of different occasions). This Spaltung is the tvr* 011 
specific differential relation or articulation that binds (ir/ °' 
form of an abyss, a lack) unconscious discourse to the elem 
or, rather, structural category of ideological discourse called +k 
Ich. In a word, Lacan would appear to establish the abyss or l ac k 
a subject, by way of the concept of the division of the subierf 
There is no 'subject of the unconscious', although the uncon 
scious can exist only thanks to this abyssal relation with an kh 
(the subject of the ideological). The lack of the subject cannot be 
called a subject, although the (ideological) subject is implied or 
reflected in Freud's second topography, in an original way, 
through this lack, which is not a subject, but something altogether 
different. That the shadow cast by the ideological should make 
itself felt even in the instances of the topography is one thing; 
but it doesn't authorize us to think this 'presence' of the ideo- 
logical in the topography by means of ideological concepts such as 
the concept of the subject. (The same remark applies, in my 
opinion, to Lacan's way of using the ideological concept of truth 
in expressions invoking 'the truth as cause'.) 

I am, then, very strongly inclined to revise what I have written 
about the subject of the different discourses in the light of this 
essential rectification. However, the approach I tried to take 
above still seems valid to me. The point is to define not only the 
elements characteristic of each discourse, but also the structure 
and the constraints (?) characteristic of each discourse. What 
have in mind here is the fact that the elements are not owy 
different in each discourse, but are also not arranged-ordered 
the same way in each discourse. As a result of this arran 8 ein / z r> r 
ordering, the categories (?) constitutive of each discourse \ 
example, the category of the subject in the case of ideolop 
discourse) are not the same categories, and are not arrang 
the same way. Thus we can say that ideological dte c0 j 
mobilizes categories of its own (it is speculary with i* 1 -g 
duplication, centred, and closed) - while scientific < ^ sC °t a ^ l 
mobilizes others, in a very different arrangement (non-spe^ 



A plication, open-ended, etc.; all these structural con- 
w jtft0 ut be defined and made more precise). 
cep* 5 * 11 on stantly wondering which notions (borrowed from 

1 aItl . or an y other discipline) should be brought to bear to 
ling 015 > these facts. There is, it seems, not only the difference 
a ccoun elements (which, in principle, is not problematic), 

k^i what I have just called the different categories, which can 
b ut a , veS be understood only in relation to their arrangement- 
tf 1 ^ 11 . or structure. Can we use the concept of constraints to 
° f vnate this structure? Is the concept of category appropriate 
7 ] S the distinction between the categories and the structure 
accurate and pertinent? 

(3) If these questions can be clarified, one last question will 

Specific elements + categories + arrangements (constraints?) 

do indeed define the different discourses as different, and there- 
fore irreducible. But the fact remains that they are all discourses, 
which we can define as discourses by virtue of their difference 
from practices. 

The structure of a discourse is not that of a practice. Not only 

because a discourse produces only effects of, let us say, meaning, 

whereas practices produce real modifications-transformations in 

existing objects, and, at the limit, new real objects (economic 

practice, political practice, theoretical practice, etc.). This does 

not mean that the discourses cannot have effects [exercer 

« efficace] on real objects, but they do so only by virtue of their 

u^sertion-articulation into the practices in question, which then 

e use °f them as instruments in the 'labour process' of these 

I actlces - There is an entire field waiting to be explored here; we 

_ ady have certain theoretical elements for the purpose at our 

posal (consider what Balibar says about intervention in a 

ce, a b°ut the intervention of science in economic or politi- 
cai Practice). 

h as i e *™ s es sential difference between discourse and practice 
faced n n °ted and defined, we find ourselves ipso facto 

d * s cour l tas k °' defining what constitutes discourses as 

their d'ff' defining what gives rise to the fact that they are all, 

We erences notwithstanding, discourses. 
these di D Sa ^ SOme important things on this point. First, that 
°urses, ^ order to exist as discourses, have to contain 


a 'twofold articulation'; their elements have to exist ' 
storeys' - a twofold articulation comparable to that wh^ ^ 
linguists have shown to exist in language (phonem ^ 
phemes). In scientific discourse, for example, the first artici i^° N 
is constituted by words; the second (I believe it is the oth ^ 
round in Martinet's terminology) by concepts. In uncon ^ 
discourse, for example, the first articulation (or first stored 0Us 
be constituted by a whole series of units such as phon 
words, images, sounds, smells, and so on; the second bv f^' 
tasies, and so forth. We should be able to make this kind 
inventory everywhere in order to bring out the fact that th 
existence of this two-storey structure is constitutive of all discount 
as discourse. 

In addition, we should be able to bring out the existence of a 
whole series of laws of combination, substitution, elision, subrep- 
tion, accumulation, and so on - in short, what linguistics has 
thrown into relief and Lacan has used for his own purposes. 

Can one distinguish these laws with precision, and if there 
are different types of laws, can one distinguish and define those 
different types and levels of laws? Certainly the linguists have 
already done some work on this question. Can someone help me 
to sum it up and spell out its implications in a way that is 
relevant to what we are looking for? (The laws of syntax, for 
example: at what level do they operate with respect to the laws 
of metonymy and metaphor? Where do we put tropes and 
stylistic devices? Information, please.) 

If this question could be clarified, it would, it seems to ine, 
throw up another, which is crucial. Precisely where, with respect 
to our attempt to found a theory of discourses, should we situa 
the discoveries and concepts of linguistics! Precisely w ^ e 
should we situate the laws whose existence has been demo 
strated by linguistics with respect to our project to foun 
theory of discourses implying a theory of discourse? . 

Since the discourses with which we are concerned are j 
restricted to the forms of discourse that linguistics studied 
since we are studying discourses whose elements are not - 
are not all, or are not always - linguistic elements, should w 
consider linguistics to be a regional discipline that can s ra J 
an epistemological 'guide', but only as a guide, for a g e ^ 
theory that is still lacking, and could be the General Theory 




/ r of the signifier? but I am beginning to be i 
nis£° utse f !i[s term, which is too deeply involved in the ideal 
• c jotfS ° ta tions of Saussure's signifier-signified). While the 
f the c0 , linguistics is the index and the call for a General 
eX istenc e DisC0UrS e / it cannot, rigorously speaking, replace such 
tfxeory yrfo^ then, are its own current limits, those that would 
a theory- ^^ ^ as a regional theory, if that is how it should 
allow t should it be thought that way, as I believe it 

5h< The hypothesis I am suggesting would make it possible to 

with respect to the specific laws defining each particular 

bourse (the discourses listed above), a status to the general 

r governing any discourse, the laws that come into play in any 
d scourse, but whose play or exercise is constrained by the laws 
governing the constraints characteristic of each particular type of 
discourse (those to which I have essayed an approach in my 
discussion of the specificity, for each discourse, of the system 
elements + categories + structures). 

We would then have to establish an adequate terminology, 
which would doubtless no longer be quite the same as that used 
in linguistics - not only because our object goes beyond the 
limits of linguistics by virtue of the distinction we are drawing 
between the different discourses, but also by virtue of the fact 
that linguistics would not be the General Theory of Discourse it 
claims to be (or that one rather too hastily claims it is), even if, 
w the present conjuncture, linguistics alone can 'guide' us in 
going beyond linguistics in the two directions indicated. Termi- 
no ogical modifications would then become indispensable. 

° r exa nnple, the opposition language/speech [langue/parole] can- 

e considered pertinent. Speech raises a very different prob- 

^ secondary with regard to the problem preceding it: that of 

disc SCOurses ' F° r a speech act [une parole] occurs only in a 

P e rtin °PP os ^ on language [langue]/ discourse is theoretically 

°PPos h ** would no longer have the same status as the 

kng Ua ?j }an g U( tge/speech; it may well be the concept of a 
s ^ce w an % ue \ that will prove inadequate in our opposition, 
^anin ^u ass ^S n ^ n 8 ^e concept of discourse a much broader 
s tate, p i * e one authorized by linguistics in its current 

a ps the concept of language [langage] would become 


pertinent again: language would designate the structu r 
discourse, and thus play vis-^-vis discourse (in the bro a* **ty 
in which we use the term) the same role as the cone ^^ 
language [le concept de langue] played vis-i-vis 'lingua if* °* « 
course in the narrow Saussurean sense (what Saussuxe t, ^ 
mind when he pronounces the concept speech). ^ s in 

So many questions. 

Are they relevant, and posed in the right way? 

How can one answer them in the present state of affairs? 

U October l S6e 


1. As were Althusser's 'Letters to D/ See Olivier Corpet and Francois 
Matheron, Introduction to Letters to D.', WP 33-4. 

2. See 'Letters to D.', WP 70. 

3. LF 711-12, 13 September 1966. 

4. Ibid., p. 712. 

5. Every' is underlined; a marginal note reads '? verify this' 

6. The two typed versions of the text read 'general', but the correct reading 
is undoubtedly 'regional' 

7. Handwritten addendum on the back of the preceding page: '"reas- 
signed" to the general theory or, rather, ''temporarily reassigned" to the 
general theory (in the sense in which a teacher at a lycie is "temporarily 
reassigned" to a university post).' 

8. 'Correct' [juste] is crossed out; the handwritten correction reads 'a certain 

9. La Psychanalyse, no. 3: Psychanalyse et Sciences humaines, 1957. 

10. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'and its relation to regio 

11. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'or formations' 

12. Handwritten addendum in the text: 'as well' 4 ^t 

13. Handwritten addendum on a slip of paper attached to this pag 6 - . 
function of language [langue] is not at the same level = since there 
function of language! but only of the discourse for which it P*? ^j- 
either signifiers or constitutive (first-storey) elements (segments) Of & 
fiers. Thus there are no functions of language, in this sense, for w h 
does not exist only discourses exist.' 

14. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'in The German Ideology 

15. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'cf . below (to be correc ^ tiv* 

16. The French is garbled, but the meaning is clear enough: the fl h t ^ 
connotations of the word 'unconscious' in the sense 'nor-consci 


a hv the positive connotations of the concept of the 'uncon- 
aut*^** 1 p yd See 'On L£vi-Strauss', p. 26 above; PSH 76 [Tra«s.J. 
*» oUS ' ^rt n addendum in the margin: 'watch out!' 
- Ha^ dwn "en addendum in the margin: 'as a selbst' 
}g. H^ dW ^ en addendum in the margin: 'as his'. 

*0 $ ic ' tt n addendum in the margin: 'asked for', followed by a 

2i. Ha^^ 1 n addendum on the back of the previous page: 'It is the 

hand** 11 p iice which provides the individuals whom policemen 

^^y; te with the identity papers that these policemen request 

"^and) that one show.' 

^ et *\ -rjtten addendum on the back of the previous page: 'not the who, 

^' ^^his conscription is in any case obeyed - it provides the subject-whos 

h is whos to whom it offers the guarantee that they are the subjects of 

^interpellation to assume the functions of Trager)'. 

Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'Yes! {It's the same thing.)' 
71 Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'morphemes or even words' 
25 Handwritten addendum in the margin: '(or must simultaneously, in 

order to exist, pass by way of an articulation by the ideological? the 

Ideology of the body) 4 

26. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'no' 

27. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'yes' 

28. Handwritten addendum on the back of the previous page: 'the (some) 
formations of the unconscious are thus inscribed in (combined) modes of 
ideologica I format ioi is ' 

29. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'a mode of an ideological 

30. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'gestures, minimal patterns of 
behaviour, etc/ 

31. Handwritten addendum in the margin: 'modes of 

Handwritten addendum on the back of the same sheet: 'thus a discourse 
exists in the signifiers of another discourse - better, in another discourse - 
1 avai ls itself of the signifiers and of certain structural relations of the 
°jner discourse in order to exist in that other discourse [scientific 
/* ourse a ko makes use of the signifiers of other discourses, ideological, 
ve . a11 ' b ut aesthetic as well] [there is no pure discourse: all of them 
m m one a "other - communication of the genres - or, rather, encroach- 

mar ** genres on eacn otner - That is what articulation is].' In the 
sent ^ m next to this handwritten addendum, the second of the two 
seem CeS Althusser puts in brackets is preceded by an arrow that 

33 Hand t0 P ° int t0 the lines annotated here. 

34. ^ a ^ ltten a ddendum in the margin: 'mode' 

rer>rr^ w m the margin points towards the handwritten addendum 

3S HS UCed «n note 32 above. 

^ H andw n H en addenduin m ^ margin: '? no' 

^andvvr 1 ^ addendum m the margin: 'or the same structure' 
'nade a ^ adden( *um on the back of the preceding page: 'Freud never 
ec ret of the fact that, for him, the Superego was the moral 


Subject (the Ego Ideal, on the other hand, may well be of an enti 
different nature) - find out why Lacan never discusses the Supere e * ^ 

38. The French sentence is not particularly clear. Althusser may have m 

to replace it with the sentence that follows [Trans.]. ^ 

39. This sentence is preceded by an arrow that seems to point towards tK 
handwritten addendum reproduced in note 32 above. ^ e 

40. This sentence, too, is preceded by an arrow that seems to point tow» h 
the handwritten addendum given in note 32 above. ^ 

41. Jacques Lacan, 'La science et la v£rit£', reprinted in £crits, Paris 1Q&: 
pp. 855-77. ' **' 

On Feuerbach 


One can mark off two major stages in Althusser's work on Feuerbach's 
philosophy; his archives contain a group of texts corresponding to each. 
Those in the earlier group, comprising nearly one hundred mostly 
typed pages, were originally intended for inclusion in a book on 
Feuerbach, and date from the period in which Althusser was completing 
the translations of Feuerbach that he published in 1960 under the title 
Manifestes philosophiques. Two chapters and a few loose fragments 
have survived. The first chapter, entitled 'Why Elephants Have No 
Religion, is forty-three pages long and is written out in nearly finished 
form; the second, the title of which Althusser had not yet settled on - 
among the possibilities he was considering were 'On Alienation'; or 
'God: A Bad Subject'; 1 or Tree the Attributes!'; or Vive a Purer 
leaning to the Word "Attribute" 'I - runs to just twelve pages and is 
much rougher Since Althusser summarizes the contents of these early 
walyses in his 1967 course on The German Ideology, we have opted 
ot to include them in the present volume - not without a measure of 
& r #, because certain passages in the first version of Chapter 1 are 
T/ tstically much more polished than the corresponding passages in 
me met version. 

y, e text published here has been culled from Althusser's course on 
i n /° erm an Ideology, one of the set texts for the oral examination 
t u e ^7 agr6gation 2 in philosophy. Althusser outlined the struc- 
hu I , course in an introduction to it: '1. The principles of 
pri nc j ls Philosophy; 2. A commentary on the basic theoretical 
"Th e f €S °f ^ e Manuscripts of 1844; 3. A commentary on the 
on feuerbach"; 4. A commentary on The German Ideology/ 


The documents preserved in his archives reflect this outline, to 
only the first part of the course has been written out; the rest hi*** 
left in the form of notes which it would make sense to release o i r* 
complete edition of Althusser's courses, lecture notes include * n * 
have therefore chosen to publish only the section of the cou ' 

Veuerbach, omitting the introduction ('On The German Ideolo »° 11 
needs of students planning to sit the agr^gation. "* 

straightforward presentation of Marx's and Engels's text tailored I 

There are two typed copies (an original and a carbon) of the iqc 
course in Althusser's archives. Handwritten modifications have he 
made to each. Unfortunately, the modifications only rarely coincid* 
This is in large part explained by the different destinies of the tu* 
documents. The earlier copy of the text, the original typescript (called 
'Document V in our notes), bears a large number of handwritten 
emendations. This is almost certainly the document to which Althusser 
referred in giving his course, at a time when he was planning to 
publish, in collaboration with ttienne Balibar, a book on Feuerbachjhe 
early Marx, and Marx's 'works of the break' The second text (the 
carbon copy, hereafter referred to as 'Document T) bears a title in 
Balibar 's handwriting ('Louis Althusser. Course 19671; Althusser lent 
it to Balibar, who can no longer remember when he gave it back. 
Althusser's handwritten modifications to this text were almost certainly 
made after it was returned to him; thus they are more recent than the 
modifications to Document 1. The two sets of modifications are, 
moreover, completely independent of each other (it is highly improbable 
that Althusser had Document 1 in Irnnd as he was revising Document 
2; the opposite is even liarder to imagine). Document 2 contains ft 
fewer changes. Above all they lack the systematic character of ^ 
found in Document 1, and do not seem to be motivated by any cleari}) 
defined project: the spaces left blank, usually for German quotation* 
from Feuerbach, have not been filled in (as they are in Document 
No modifications occur after page 57 of Document 2. ^ 

Thus the earlier document is, in a sense, more finished' trtiM 
later one. However, since tf was impossible not to take Docutne* 1 
into consideration in preparing the present edition, we were Ify ^ 
no choice but to publish a text which, strictly speaking, is noV) i^t 
be found as such in Althusser's archives. We have therefore adopt* 
following editorial policy. We have silently and systematically && ^ 
rated the modifications to Document I into the present text f V)ft ^ 
they do not conflict with those in Document 2; these changes & 


i Notes. We have also adopted the modifications to 
M$ e( * tH 7 whenever they do not conflict with those made to 
pocti* ten ^however, because of the peculiar status of Document 2, 
pocun ieTtt ^ tem tically flagged them. Finally, whenever the modifica- 
& ^ ve 5 ; £ ZV0 documents are incompatible, we have adopted what 
tio* tS to ^ th e more carefully worked out version, while giving 

fir' 'in 'the Notes. 

f ench translations of Feuerbach to which Althusser refers are 

711 € \\e published in his anthology of Feuerbach's early writings, 

th°* e y philosophiques; his unpublished translation of 'The Con- 

fGod as the Generic Essence of Man', preserved in his archives; 

ce V. Joseph Roy's translation of Das Wesen des Christentums 

A/essence du Christianisme, Paris, 1864). The English translations 

; passages from Das Wesen des Christentums have been taken from 

George Eliot's version, except in the case of the introduction, where 

they are taken from an anthology of Feuerbach's writings, The Fiery 

Brook, edited and translated by Zawar Hanfi. Translations of passages 

from all other works by Feuerbach have been taken from Hanfi' s 

anthology and one other source, or provided by the translator of the 

present volume. Both Eliot's and Hanfi's translations have often been 

modified to bring them into conformity with Althusser's. 

Frangois Matheron 

Two restrictions: 

1- I shall be dealing only with themes that bear directly on 
the theoretical problems posed by the 1844 Manuscripts and 
The German Ideology. 

2 - To that end, I shall limit myself to those of Feuerbach's 
works which date from the period that interests us, the 
P r e-1845 texts that I have collected and translated under 
th e title Manifestes philosophiques* 

\v 0u i H °[. e ^cussing Feuerbach's essential themes in detail, I 
Philo t0 Sa y a ' ew wor( * s a bout the general character of his 

w ^ml Uer ' 3a * basically defines himself in relation to Hegel, 

That i s u- ^^ertakes to 'invert', in the strict sense of the word. 

spe^j s Mention, proclaimed and carried out. The critique of 

Ve philosophy does indeed constitute an inversion of 


Hegel, in the proper sense of the word: putting what is on * 
the bottom, and vice versa. This inversion, as we shall °^ at 
expressed in various ways: inversion of the relationship behT' ** 
Thought and being, Idea and sensuous nature, Philosophv ^ 
non-philosophy; inversion of the relationship between su}^ 
and attribute, and so on. One and the same principle is at w ^ 
in all these various forms of inversion of Hegel: the sense \ 
is inverted in order to restore an inverted sense. 1 

Yet this critique of Hegel remains the prisoner of He* \> 
problematic. For the most part, Feuerbach works on the Hegeli S 
system and within that system, using its concepts. To the extent 
that the inversion he carries out bears only on the sense [sens] 
(which should be understood as both 'vector 7 and 'signification') 
internal to Hegel's conceptual system, he adds nothing to Hegel- 
he contents himself with rearranging the system and redistrib^ 
uting its concepts in order to obtain an inverted, rectified sense, an 
inversion that inverts the speculative inversion, and thus restores 
the truth in its authenticity. 

2. However, if the inversion of Hegel adds nothing to Hegel, it 
has the interesting effect of deleting 4 something from him. The 
paradox of the Feuerbachian critique of Hegel is that it aims to 
go beyond Hegel once and for all in order to found a new 
philosophy, the philosophy of Modern Times, the philosophy 
required by the practice of modern Humanity, the philosophy of 
the practical atheism of Modern Times, the philosophy that fully 
corresponds to the development of industry and to the evolution 
and requirements of political activity - the paradox, I say, of this 
new philosophy which breaks with Hegel is that, to a certain 
extent, it brings us back to a pr^-Hegelian position, to theines 
peculiar to the eighteenth century and a problematic that ^ eriV 
from both Diderot and Rousseau. The fact that F euerba( ^ 
critique of Hegel takes the rigorous form of an inversion has 
following consequence: it deletes from Hegel not only a w 
series of concepts, but also something that constitutes an eS \\ t 
tial object of Hegelian thought - history, or culture, and 
which Hegel situates at the origins of culture: labour. Wh e ' Q j 
the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx attributes to the Phenomenology^ 
Mind the inestimable merit of having 'grasped labour a . c 
essence of man', 5 and reintroduces the Hegelian »i ^ 

of history, he perceives what Feuerbach had eliminated 


A tries to restore it. Feuerbach does, of course, occasion- 
ing^' an hout history in his work, but he never talks about 
aUy • the Hegelian sense of 'Bildung', that is, as a product of 
^Iture j uc ed in its turn by the dialectic of the struggle unto 
labo ur l P ogn ition). when Feuerbach talks about history, what 
death r° ^ aS ^ mind is the history of religion and the history 
h e uS !J Q D hv These are not true examples of history, not even 
°* Hegelian sense, but simple sequences of forms possessing 
* n that proceeds from the Feuerbachian theory of alienation. 
3 hall see 6 that on this point too, the theory of alienation, 
p erbach deletes something from Hegel, and that he is forced 
do so by the theoretical effect of the principle informing his 
ritique of Hegel: the principle of inversion. Very roughly, the 
measure of Feuerbach's retreat behind Hegel, the measure of 
what Feuerbach deletes from Hegel, may be taken from the type 
of criticism he makes of him: we may say that Feuerbach replaces 
Hegel's absolute objective idealism with an absolute anthropologism or 
humanism; tliat he replaces the absolute idealism of the Idea with an 
absolute materialism of man. One need only state the matter in this 
way to justify the schematic judgement made a moment ago. 
What remains of Hegel is the project of an 'absolute' philosophy, a 
philosophy of infinity (we shall see what form these determina- 
tions take in Feuerbach). The result is that the project at the very 
core of Feuerbach's philosophy bears Hegel's stamp; that is why 
we do not find a full-fledged Feuerbach in the eighteenth cen- 
tury. On the other hand, what disappears from Hegel in Feuer- 
ba ch is the content designated in Hegelian philosophy by the 
incept of the Idea, that is, the dialectic of the object called history. 
that sense, Feuerbach relapses into the eighteenth century, 
a pre-Hegelian position, retreating towards themes we can 
e out in various authors (Diderot's materialism, Rousseau's 
ty of human nature and origins, etc.); in his work, these 
ism q S *^ e f° rm °' anthropological or humanist material- 

cr iti c * ' * en ' is ^ e ^ rst P ara doxical effect of the type of 
retread * ^ euer b ac h brings to bear on Hegel: a theoretical 
^d-uii ^ res pect to Hegel. Engels clearly saw this in his 

3 Th erbach7 
Heg e j . sec °nd paradoxical effect induced by the inversion of 

^od ern ^ n ex traordinary anticipation of certain themes of 
Philosophy: the philosophy of the Welt and Umwelt f the 


philosophy of the Weltanschauung on the one hand 

continuations down to Heidegger (see Karl Lowith's bont *k 

Hegel zu Nietzsche)* and, on the other, the philosophy ^ 

signification of consciousness as intentionality down to U ^ 

and his heirs in the contemporary hermeneutics of rel" /**' 


that the anticipatory power of Feuerbach's theory stems ab^ 

inspiration (whether theological, as in Karl Barth's Prot 
theology, or philosophical, as in Ricceur). 9 I will giv e a * 
examples when I analyse Feuerbach's basic themes. We shall ^ 

all from his retreat from Hegelian positions and his return t 
philosophy of man that is simultaneously a philosophy f tk 
origin; it stems, to be very precise, from the nature of k* 
anthropology, which is an anthropology of sense rather than on 
of essence. 

How did this influence, which modern thinkers have not 
acknowledged, come about? Between certain themes in Feuer- 
bach's thought and certain themes of modern philosophy, is 
what we see the anonymous encounter of a rediscovery? Or is it, 
rather, the effect of an influence exercised through intermediar- 
ies, one transmitted by Nietzsche in particular? I am inclined to 
favour the second hypothesis. In any event, one could do an 
interesting piece of research in the history of philosophy on the 
subject, which I call to the attention of those who might be 

Here are the themes of Feuerbach's philosophy that I propose 
to discuss in very schematic fashion: 10 

1. the theory of the absolute horizon, or the theory of the 
object as the essence of the subject; 

2. the theory of alienation as the inversion of sense an 
abstraction; d 

3. the theory of the species as the ground of theory a* 1 
practice and also as the ground of the Revolution 
Modern Times and the realization of the human essen *Tl e 

4> the materialist inversion of speculative philosophy a* 1 
unity of humanism, of naturalism and humanism 11 






I of Feuerbach's philosophy follows necessarily from a 
^ e wn° , e propositions, which I shall quote: 

'The essence™ of man is not only the grounds, but also the 

1 object oi religion/* 

'Cod is * e exteriorized [entaufiertes, ah6n£[ self [selbst] 

of man.' b 

2 'But if religion, that is, the consciousness of God, is charac- 
terized as the self-consciousness of man, this does not mean 
that the religious man is directly conscious that his con- 
sciousness of God is the consciousness of his own essence, 
for it is precisely the absence of such consciousness that 
grounds the peculiar essence of religion. ' c 

In the first proposition, Feuerbach says that the essence of man 

is not only the grounds of religion. He thereby casts aside all the 

dassical theories of religion since Epicurus, and, in particular, all 

the theories of religion to be found in Machiavelli, Spinoza, and 

the philosophers of the Enlightenment; these theories constitute 

so many ideologies of the anti-religious struggle, relating 

religion not to God and the various forms His revelation takes 

jn human history, but to man. These theories differ from Feuer- 

ac n s in that, although they offer us a genesis of religion which 

out from man, that genesis involves only partial and, 

ually, aberrant effects of human nature - as a rule, a combi- 

°n of partial and aberrant effects. What can be ascribed to 

m re ligion is fear, stupidity, imposture, and politics or morals. 

Sp- ' or example, it is a question of politics or morals (see 

^rv d\ 0V eVen R° usseau )/ the political or moral purposes 

y re ligion are always concealed by the impostures of 

h ° n 'L FBoD ach ' kttroduction to the Essence of Christianity [hereafter 'Introduc- 

Q ; -." ^trodu c ^ anslation modifiecL 

° ***** is hie ^ ^ 129. [Althusser includes the German words in brackets; 

1 ^trodu „ lation of ntwflert.] 

hon < F B HO; translation modified. 


deceit or illusion - of, in a word, the imagination, wheth 
imagination reflects the workings of universal human nab * 
the deceptions concocted by a conspiratorial sect of p r j e [ e °f 
kings. Thus, the whole of this philosophical tradition of S ° r 
critique of religion would find it impossible to endorse 
Feuerbachian equation 'religion - the essence of man' "* 

To bring out the novelty of his conception, Feuerbach 
that religion is not only grounded in human nature, but that it- 
its object, its objectification, its adequate existence in the form ^ 
the objectivity of an object - precisely, religion as the obfe 
peculiar to man [objet propre de Vhomme], 

With the expression 'religion is the object proper to man' 
Feuerbach does not simply designate a specific negative differ- 
ence setting man apart from the animals. Doubtless that is how 
things appear at first sight. Elephants' ^ have no religion/ ani- 
mals have no religion; man alone has a religion. But one must 
go further, and understand 'peculiar to man' not in the Aristote- 
lian sense of 'peculiar to', but in the Cartesian sense of the 
essential attribute - in the adequate, positive sense in which 
religion is not only an index of the distinction between man and 
the animals, but that which constitutes man's humanity, the 
human essence in its adequation. In Spinozan terms, we would 
say 14 that religion is the adequate idea of man. 

This is an important proposition, since it suffices to dis- 
tinguish Feuerbach from Hegel. For Hegel, religion is the second 
moment of Absolute Spirit, which comprises three moments: art, 
religion and philosophy. Here I leave aside a very important 
matter, the fact that the 'essence of man' is not what is at stake 
in Hegel, 13 so that there can be no question of seeking, in Hegel 
an answer to the non-Hegelian question of the 'essence of m^ 1 * 
Rather, at stake in Hegel is the Idea and its existence in absolute 
form. But even if we assume that Feuerbach substituted man to 
the Idea, and, with that reservation, put the question as tran$* 
formed by Feuerbach to Hegel, we will not obtain the sain 
answer. For there is something higher than religion, name 1 ;' 
philosophy, which in its turn 'supersedes' the first two mom en 
of Absolute Spirit, art and religion; it is their 'synthesis' ^ . 
expresses their 'truth', the unity of the in-itself and for-itsel* 

J Introduction, FB 97. 


Spirit in the in-itself/for-itself of Absolute Spirit repre- 
$ Abv philosophy. For Feuerbach, in contrast we may say 
$etf e j- n rr is higher than religion. Religion is well and truly the 
th at n - e ^ea of man, or, as Feuerbach says, the object of man, 
a ^ it contains the whole of the human essence, from the 

in it ip to ^ e ^ °/ history. When this thesis is rigorously 
res a s to ^ e status °f ar * anc * philosophy - philosophy in 

t ded and developed, there naturally follow certain conse- 
^ e es as to the status of art and philosophy - philosophy in 
^ U ricular. Feuerbach, precisely, presents philosophy not as 
P a erse ding religion but as a religious effect, an effect that can 
5 . her b e alienated or, on the contrary, rendered adequate. 
i deed/ it may be observed that philosophy emerges as a by- 
product of theology in the history of humanity. The genesis of 
philosophy thus proceeds by way of the filiation religion-theol- 
O gy~philosophy. This filiation is the site of an alienation: the 
alienation of theology reduplicates the alienation of religion, and 
philosophy only repeats, in its turn, this alienation of theology: 
it culminates in Hegel's speculative philosophy. Ultimately, then, 
philosophy is alienated religion: in philosophy, we do not get 
beyond the limits of the essence of religion. What holds for the 
alienated forms of philosophy also holds for the partially dis- 
alienated forms or the totally disalienated form of philosophy. 
In particular, the new philosophy founded by Feuerbach does not go 
beyond the limits of religion:™ it goes beyond the alienated forms of 
philosophy, and thus the alienated forms of theology, in order to return 
to the essence of religion and 'disclose' [devoiler] the authentic 
essence of religion in its very alienation. The new philosophy is 
the truth of 17 religion - not in the Hegelian sense of supersession, 
or a development of religion that supersedes it, but in the 
pinozan sense of an adequate idea of religion. The new philos- 
Phy adds nothing to religion: it simply strips it of its veils; it is 
lts Public avowal or confession. 

of u ' moreover ' explains why Feuerbach can say, in the third 
rel P ro P°sitions I have cited, that what constitutes religion as 
§ 10 n, that is, as the alienation of man's essence, is 'the absence 
fo ° nsc * OUSness '- The new philosophy adds nothing to religion, 
Sh l ** &* ves ** * s ^is 'self-consciousness' that religion lacks. 
He l We sa y *^ a * ^ere is a relapse into a certain form of 
t * lan ism here, in that philosophy adds the missing 'for itself 
lion's in-itself? By no means; because, in itself, religion is 


already consciousness, and because endowing religion with 
sciousness does not in fact consist in providing it with sorttetK^ 
it lacks, but simply in divesting it ] * of what conceals from it ^^ 
it is, of what obstructs this consciousness. Far from add 
something to religion, then, philosophy frees religion of not q\ f 
but a mask, an obstruction, its blinkers, its veils. It is in this sen 
that philosophy is a disclosure, Enthullung: an unveiling 
religion, a visible manifestation of the pure essence of religion 
or, again, a confession and an avowal. Philosophy merely §*v 
what religion says without saying it. 11 * From this there follows 
fundamental thesis about the essence of philosophy as unveili n9 
or disclosure, the disappearance of philosophy in the object di$. 
closed, and the nature of truth as what is manifested in this 
disclosure. There also follows a fundamental thesis about the 
unique source of disalienation, which is identical with disclosure 
and the true, authentic realization of the human essence: it is 
that everything hinges on the disclosure of that essence - to be 
very precise, on bringing self-consciousness into full correspon- 
dence [adequation] with consciousness. This, of course, has impli- 
cations not only for the nature of ideologies, philosophy, and the 
sciences, but also for politics, which is reduced to a critique of 
the illusions of consciousness about itself, with the whole resting 
on the thesis of the practical and theoretical primacy of consciousness. 
We shall consider that point later. 

For the moment, we shall confine ourselves to bringing out 
the theoretical presuppositions of Feuerbach's thought by draw- 
ing the conclusions that follow from an equation which may 1* 
written as follows: philosophy = the disclosure of religion - 
man's self-consciousness = man's consciousness = man's essence 
= man's object = religion. 

We are dealing with a whole series of classical concepts in tn* 5 
equation, but also with a term which, while it, too, figures among 
the terms of classical philosophy, is nevertheless not a concep 
of classical philosophy (except in certain Cartesian formulation^- 
the term 'object' This term sustains the entire edifice of F eU * 
bach's theory. We shall discuss it under the rubric of the 'theov 
of the absolute horizon' or 'theory of the Feuerbachian object : . 

The whole of Feuerbach's theory of the object is contained 
the following proposition: 'the object to which a subject # 
tially and necessarily relates is nothing but the subject's 


but objectified [vergegenstandlicht]' * a formulation that 

e * sC ^u e*P resse< ^ m *^ e f°W° w i n g equation: a subject's essential 
rf^y ___ ^at subject's objectified essence. This formulation admits 
L>bj eC 7 _ te j n which 'subject' is replaced by bewg or species, 
of v ^^gj' [vergegenstandlicht] by externalized [veraufiert] or 
°^ e ted [entfremdet] or, again, by manifestation [Ersc/iemwttg], 
Inre'ssion [Xirfsrfnic*], etc. 

C This equation expresses an - in principle - perfect correspon- 

adequation] between, on the one hand, the essence of a 

h 'ne or subject, and, on the other, his peculiar [propre] 20 object, 

Hed his essential object. It is peculiar to him in the narrow, 
it | ve sense of the term, because it is nothing other than this 
Heine's or subject's objectification, externalization, or adequate 
manifestation. This immediately brings to mind a structure that 
j 5 typical of the relationship between these concepts: a relation 
of subject to object (objects) or essence to phenomenon, a relation 
in which the centre is constituted by the constitutive subject, 
from which there emanates a space of objects concentric to this 
centre, objects objectifying the essence of this subject or being, 
who is thus the subject that constitutes them. This in the precise 
sense in which the term is anticipated in Kant and will later be 
reappropriated by modern philosophy, by Geistesphilosophie (phil- 
osophy of Spirit): a Welt if not an Umwelt {Geistesphilosophie or a 
certain biology or ethology), a Welt or, more precisely, an 
Umwelt. In suggesting these spatial images of centre and circular 
environment here, I am simply repeating the very terms used by 
reuerbach, who speaks of the circle of essential objects surround- 
,n g the central subject as his 'horizon' That is why I speak of a 

e °ry of the object as a theory of the horizon (or the Umivelt); 

e can readily see the modern resonance of these terms. But I 

v e yet to justify the other term in my phrase 'absolute hori- 

n ° n ' the word 'absolute' It, too, is in Feuerbach. Although he 

;„ i er s P ea ks of an absolute horizon, both words are to be found 
in Jijc « 

us anc * are em pl°y e d m a sense that not only authorizes 

so s P ea k of an absolute horizon, but even requires us to do 


d et a *i er to understand this 'absolute', we have to go into the 
s of Feuerbach's theory - that is, expose ourselves to the 

Auction, FB 100; translation modified. 


surprise of an astonishing 'transcendental biology' It is u 
ever, as is often the case in the work of innovators, rrter ?^ % 
cover that provides an absolute anthropology with a term* * 
ogy, and provides it with a terminology in order to justify Ju 
anthropology's twofold role as a foundation for the theorv 
knowledge as well as for morality and practice. °* 

I say 'transcendental biology', but one might just as well 
Philosophy of Nature in general, because, as we shall suI 
Feuerbach does not restrict himself to the animal world K 
extends his theory to vegetables and minerals too, in order f 
provide it with a universal foundation and benefit from th 
ideological effects of this recourse to Nature. 

Thus: 'the object to which a subject essentially and necessarily 
relates is nothing but the subject's own essence, but objectified' 
And, astoundingly, Feuerbach immediately adds: 'In this sense 
the Sun is the object of the Planets . ' Later he will say that the 
leaf is the object of the caterpillar, and so on. Yet he is soon 
brought up short by an objection: the Sun is not the exclusive, 
unique, and thus peculiar object of one planet, but of several: 

The Sun is the common object of the planets, but it is not an object 
for the Earth in the same way as it is for Mercury [or] Venus ... The 
Sun which lights and warms Uranus - and the way it does so - has 
no physical existence for the Earth. Not only does the sun appear 
different, but it really is another Sun on Uranus than on the Earth. 
Hence, the Earth's relationship to the Sun is at the same time the 
Earth's relationship to itself, to its own being, for the measure of the 
magnitude and intensity of light which is decisive as to the way the 
Sun is an object for the earth is also the measure of the Earths 
distance from the Sun, that is, the measure that determines the 
specific nature of the Earth. Each planet therefore has in its Sun the 
mirror in which its own essence is reflected [Spiegel seines Wesens]- 

This altogether astonishing text brings out an essential character- 
istic of the subject-object relation: the mirror relation or spccul^ 
relation. This relation is identical to the relation of the o^J^IV. 
cation of essence that binds the subject to its object and the ob)^ 
to its subject. Once the equation has been correctly written/ ° 
can approach matters from either end, subject or object; the resui 
the same. This becomes clear from a hypothesis that Feuefk 

Introduction, FB 100-101; translation modified. 


bout religion: if, after the extinction of the human race, 
nia ^h bitant of Uranus should one day land on Earth and 
& ,fl a theological treatise, he could read the human essence in 
Ji^ ._kt (assuming, of course, that he was a Feuerbachian), 
it a m . g f r om this treatise the fact that men had existed on 
h To be sure, before one is authorized to treat the equation 
£ af , ers ible, it has first to be written, constituted. One then 
aS rves that what is reversibility at the level of effects is not 
r rs jbie at the level of the cause; in other words, the reversible 
^ rittan/ relation is possible only against the background of a centred 
t ucturt in which the essence of the subject occupies the centre, 
nd the speculary objects the periphery formed by the horizon. 
T^is follows from the multiplication of the one and only Sun 
into as many particular suns as there are planets. Each planet 
does indeed possess, in the sun, the mirror of its own essence, 
on condition that one distinguish between the Sun, common to 
all the planets, living creatures and plants, and its Sun. This 
reveals the principle governing this differentiation, this appropri- 
ation of the Sun, that which establishes the Sun as the peculiar 
object of the essence of each planet: this principle is each planet's 
central essence. 

One may, then, write the following modified equation: the 
essence of planet X = its own [propre] relation [Verhalten] to the 
one and only Sun = its Sun = the Sun in so far as 21 it is the 
planet's own [propre] object. 

This modified equation is very important, for it concerns the 

external objects in the universe, common to a multitude of beings: 

^eral, vegetable, animal and human. In general, external 

jects are external in so far as different beings can take them as 

eir peculiar objects within the essential relation in which these 

ln gs stand to them. If we succeed in identifying this essential 

l ?. n ' We ma y *hen consider it, in the specific sense, to be the 

ob Cullar °bject of the being in question, that is, that being's 

the ^ esse nce. For all natural, non-human beings (we shall see 

det easons f° r this restriction), this, of course, suggests the 

r e i Q .. r °* science, whose function is to discover this peculiar 

t^ a i n ' an d/ if possible, the complex of peculiar relations that 

fi ec j U P ^e peculiar complex object constitutive of the objecti- 

* nc liv'H SenCe °^ a natura ' being, whether it be a species or an 
Ua l- Of course, this research programme for the natural 


sciences depends on the basic hypothesis that there is, by ^ 
a correspondence between the subject and its own essence wkr ' 
is objectified in its own object, a correspondence that is cortsn 
tive of all objective knowledge. One need hardly point out fk 
this is a pure mythology inspired by Schelling, and that it i n 
way reflects the reality of the practice and concepts of the nati ° 
sciences. But this gigantic myth is forged only in order to sust' 
as we shall see, the theory of religion as man's peculiar object and 
with it, the whole theory of man's knowledge and activity. 

Let us go straight to the heart of this problem, religion 
postponing our consideration of the other facets of human 

What distinguishes religion as an object from external objects 
such as the Sun or, more generally, from the external objects 
found in nature, is, precisely, that they are external, that is 
common to beings of various kinds, whereas religion, according 
to Feuerbach, is an inner object, which, for this reason, belongs 
to 22 humankind alone. The planets and plants have only an outer 
life. Animals have an inner life, but it Is one with the outer' life, 
whereas man has a twofold life: 'an inner and an outer life'.* An 
outer life is a life that brings a species into relation with the 
outer world, hence with other species. An inner life is a life that 
brings the species into relation with itself - into relation with 
itself as its own essential object. This is the case with man. Thus 
the privilege of religion resides not in the fact that it distin- 
guishes man from the animals as the index of an essential 
difference, but in the fact that it constitutes man's very essence, 
that is, the objectification of his peculiar essence, and therefore 
his peculiar object. Religion's immense privilege is that it is 
immediately, entirely, adequately, exhaustively, 21 just as it p 1 *" 
sents itself, in its objective existence, man's peculiar object, tn« 
essence of the human species. In this case, there is no need t° 
look for the type of 24 relation essential to the human sped* 
which constitutes religion as man's peculiar object (as one n 
to with the Sun). Here, one does not need to make the detouf 
a scientific investigation in order to determine the P eC , 
relation that makes religion the religion of man, 'his' re ^ h ^ 
Religion is, immediately, this very relation; it is, entirely/ 

* Introduction, FB 98. 


lation; it is, adequately, this relation, and thus the human 
v^ j t i s clear that this thesis of Feuerbach's is the object not 
eSS€ demonstration, but of a simple declaration. Or, rather, the 
a bachian demonstration of this equation is provided, in The 
f eU ? , f Christianity, by the endlessly repeated illustration of the 
ulary relation 'God's attributes/man's attributes'; this one 
5 P j e repetition, which the speculary structure of the basic 
51 cepts of Feuerbach's theory makes inevitable, is the backbone 
C f his pseudo-demonstration. I will not labour the point, except 
say that Feuerbach gives us, in his theory, a model of the 
fracture of a, 2 "' or of every, ideological discourse, a model which 
■- particularly pure in its naivety; and that his philosophy is, 
perhaps, well and truly the confession, not of the truth of religion 
and the essence of man, but of the structure of all ideological 
discourse, and of the domination religious discourse exercises 
over philosophical discourse - at any rate, over the type of 
philosophical discourse that Feuerbach produces (which I, for 
my part, would not call a philosophical discourse, but an ideo- 
logical discourse that comes under the heading of religious 

However that may be, one can draw an important conclusion 

from what has just been said. It is that if man enjoys the privilege 

of possessing his essence in an immediately given object peculiar 

to him, and in an adequate, immediately adequate form, it is 

because he takes his own species, his own genus, as his peculiar 

object, in the strict sense of the term. To say that man is the one 

being in the world to possess an inner life is to say that he 

possesses a life that unfolds entirely within his own essence, a 

Me that is its own object, in the strict sense of the term: it is to 

sa y that he has the privilege over all other beings in nature of 

n °t having to make the detour through other, external beings in 

r der to arrive at a definition of his peculiar object, in order to 

a rve his peculiar object 'for himself out of the objects 'in- 

e mselves' °f the outer Universe by virtue of the essential 

a tionship he maintains with them. It is to say that man does 

nave to make the detour through the sciences in order to 

lv e at the knowledge of his essence, but that this knowledge is 

s n [° Mm in actu, in its adequate content, in the form of the 

_ c mc object known as religion. This calls an end to the infinite 

§ r amme that the eighteenth century unfolded before the 


sciences of man and the social sciences after the idealism of vl 
Cartesian Cogito had been rejected. Man no longer has to m IJ e 
the long detour through the sciences, the detour of that infln^ 
quest in which the idea of man is, precisely, only an 'ide ' 
serving as a regulatory, not a constitutive principle for empirj I 
research; he possesses his own self-knowledge in the priviW eri 
object of religion, because, in religion, he possesses the ontolo^i 
cal privilege of standing in immediate, adequate relation to hi 
own species. 

If we write out the equation that we are in the process of 
examining, we have: inner life (that is, man's inner life, since only 
human beings have an inner life distinct from their external 
life) 2 ' 1 = relation to his object = relation to religion = essence of man := 
essence of the human species. This inner relation of the human 
species to itself in the form of its relation to its speculary object, 
religion - this inner relation has a specific name, 27 'consciousness'. 
To say that man distinguishes himself from the animals through 
religion, and to say that he distinguishes himself from them 
through consciousness, is to say one and the same thing - on 
condition that we take consciousness 'in the strict sense': that is, 
that we take it to mean, not the sensation or perception of 
external things {common to both animals and man), or even 
individual consciousness, but something quite different. 'Con- 
sciousness in the strict sense is given only in the case of a being whose 
object is his own species, his own essence/ This is what makes it 
possible to ground the difference between animal and human 
consciousness: 'Doubtless the animal takes itself as an object as an 
individual (that is what is meant by saying tlwt it Jias a feeling of 
itself) - but it does not do so as a species (tlwt is why it ^ ac ^ 
consciousness, which takes its name from knowledge). ' 2 * h It is here 
that the important difference between the individual and his 
species comes into play. We shall have to return to this point 

Let us say, then, that man is the one being in the universe 
who, as an individual, takes his species as his peculiar object, tn 
essence of his species, which is given to him in the for** 1 ° 
consciousness in the strict sense. This allows us to complete o 
equation of a moment ago by condensing it in the follow^ 
formula: inner life = immediate relation to the essence of ™ 

h Introduction, FB 97-8; translation modified- 


• s := religion = consciousness in the strict sense. This is not a 
$? e , proposition for Feuerbach. Concretely, we find in his 
& s . w j^ a t we may call concrete forms of existence of consciousness, 
vV °f is objects and relations that directly express this full corre- 
ndence between individual and species: religion is their 
*P m pendium', their summa and supreme realization. But we 
5 j t h e existence of this object in the form of all the activities 

a manifestations of the inner life in the narrow sense, that is, 
, individual's generic life. To speak, even to hold a monologue, 
that is. to speak with oneself, with oneself as if with another, is 

form of consciousness in the strict sense, that is, a manifestation 
r realization of the human species. The same holds for loving, 
reflecting, thinking and knowing, of willing in the rational, 
ethical sense, or of participating in politics. These are all so many 
activities indistinguishable from consciousness in the strict sense, 
hence from man's inner life, hence from the immediate relation 
between the human individual and the human species. 

The inner life of man is his life in its relation to his species, his essence. 
When man thinks, he converses, he speaks with himself The animal, on the 
other hand, cannot perform any generic function without the aid of another 
individual external to itself But man can perforin the functions character- 
istic of his genre -for thought and speech are true generic functions - in 
isolation from another individual Man is in himself both T and 'Thou'; he 
can put himself in the place of another precisely because his object is his 
species, his essence - not only his individuality.* 

If we interpret the particular manifestations of man's generic 
Actions narrowly, we may say that all of them are contained 
ln tn ^ religion-object, which constitutes man's absolute object, his 
s Pace and absolute horizon. Man never goes beyond the limits of 
ei pon in any of his activities, even those that seem to be non- 

} gtous r because he never goes beyond the absolute horizon of his own 

e $sence. 2<) 

When we correlate this thesis with that of the identity between 

t v SCl ° Usn ess in the strict sense and the essence of the species, 

ch ee *^ a * ^ re quires us to specify the meaning of the Feuerba- 

[ n ., c °ncept of 'consciousness in the strict sense' Consciousness 

e strict sense means self-consciousness or self-knowledge, if we 

ntr °duction, FB 98; translation modified- 


assign the word 'self the following precise content: m 
generic essence. The paradox of Feuerbach from the standn • S 
of the Cartesian tradition, although he is consistent here un- 
certain theses of Hegel's, is that self-consciousness does not nece 
arily take the form of consciousness in the Cartesian sense of fk 
transparency of self-presence. Man's self-consciousness in all th 
religious manifestations of his existence takes the basic form 
the opacity of objects, gestures, institutions, practises, and eve 
knowledge. 30 This opacity is the effect of alienation. This opacify 
has to do only with the sense expressed by these objects or 
gestures: they are manifestations of self-consciousness, and self- 
consciousness existing in the form of immediacy. One may sav 
that, in alienation, what self-consciousness lacks is consciousness 
not in the strict, but in the everyday sense: in religion and all his 
generic acts, man has to do with self-consciousness, but without 
consciousness, that is, without transparency. This does not mean 
that he lacks consciousness when he prays, acts, loves, speaks or 
knows. But in such cases the consciousness that accompanies his 
gestures and acts is a subjective, that is, an individual conscious- 
ness. It expresses nothing other than the relation of an individual 
who speaks, acts or loves to the object of his activity, perception, 
love and practices, the relation of an individual to his generic 
essence, his species; but it expresses it in opacity and misrecog- 
nition - a non-transparent relation. This is a consciousness that 
does not correspond to its object, a consciousness that expresses 
only the subjective, contingent, and thus limited or circum- 
scribed relation of the individual to generic objects and activities, 
which are misrecognized as such. This misrecognition, this non- 
correspondence of the individual consciousness to generic 
objects and activities, is the effect of alienation. It results from 
the form in which alienation reveals to the individual the exist- 
ence of his generic human existence. Consciousness can be f en " 
dered adequate to self-consciousness (that is, self-coiisciousness can 
become transparent) only through man's disalienation; throug ^ 
the inversion of alienated sense and the restoration of the oflg 
inal, true sense - through disclosure. This last consequence he P 
us to understand why Feuerbach affirms, in his definition or &J 
consciousness, that consciousness 'takes its name from kno 
edge'. 11 Self-consciousness as Feuerbach conceives it is & f 
Absolute Knowledge of the essence of the human species - in o 


i the essence of the human species revealed in an objective 
^° uTse that gives expression to it. We understand why it is 
^ lS ble for self-consciousness not to be conscious: the absolute 
P° pledge constituted by religion can be either given in a 
riousness that is adequate to Knowledge or in one that is 
S adequate to it. 
This simple analysis makes it possible to see the sense in 
hich Feuerbach is related to Hegel, and also why he relapses 
• t0 a pre-Hegelian position. Feuerbach's philosophy is a ficti- 
tious Phenomenology and dialectic. The manifest aim, in both 
Feuerbach and Hegel, is to arrive at the identity of consciousness 
and self-consciousness, that is, Absolute Knowledge - not only in 
the theoretical sense of Knowledge, but in the practical sense of 
the immediate, adequate empirical existence of the truth in daily 
life. But whereas Hegel seeks to reveal the operations of the 
dialectic that engenders the identity of consciousness and self- 
consciousness by setting out from consciousness, and, in particular, 
to show that self-consciousness is produced by the dialectic of the 
development of consciousness, something that presupposes all of his- 
tory, Feuerbach, in contrast, inverts the Hegelian relation 
between consciousness and self-consciousness, treating self-con- 
sciousness as primordial and reducing the history of alienation to mere 
modes of consciousness, that is, man's alienated relation to his 
generic essence. What Feuerbach must then produce is not, as in 
Hegel, self-consciousness and Absolute Knowledge with con- 
sciousness as a starting point but, rather, consciousness, with self- 
consciousness and Absolute Knowledge as a starting point. Even 
tnat formulation is inexact, for Feuerbach does not have to 
produce consciousness, since consciousness is not the result of a 
Process but the simple effect of a 'disclosure'; hence he has no need 
or any theory of history as the process of the genesis of 
^nation and disalienation. If consciousness is thus reduced to 
e disclosure of an originary self-consciousness, an originary Abso- 
e Knowledge, self-consciousness appears to be totally foreign 
°nsciousness in the Hegelian sense: the word 'consciousness' 

th S ** * S true ' a PP ear i* 1 ^ e expression 'self-consciousness', but 

Word, consciousness, merely designates the speculary reflec- 

an / . e s peculary relation, the specularity of universal existence 

in ln P a rticular, of the existence of the generic essence of man 

an s objects, in the human world. 32 Consciousness is thus 


merely the 'self in the speculary relation between man and u- 
world. This speculary relation can be said to be 'conscious* **, 
only because the 'self in question is the 'self' of the hun^ 
essence, and because the word consciousness has to exist som * 
where from the beginning if it is to appear at the end witho 
itself requiring a genesis, without having to be produced 
transparency plainly has to be designated as the essence of opacity] 
In the expression 'self-consciousness' as the speculary existence of 
the human essence in its objects, Feuerbach has thus taken the 
two words for granted: 'self on the one hand (= human essence) 
and 'consciousness' on the other. This relieves him of the oblige 
tion to have any theory of history at all, even a Hegelian one. 
That is why he relapses into a pre-Hegelian position. What 
remains of Hegel in Feuerbach is merely the end product of the 
Hegelian theory of history: Absolute Knowledge on the one 
hand and, on the other, the fact that Spirit does not have an adequate 
existence in thought alone, but also exists in the concrete and practi- 
cal 33 in figures of history, above all in the object known as religion, 
the human object par excellence. This object is clearly the trace of 
history, and clearly testifies that history has passed this way - 
history in the eighteenth century's sense as well as in Hegel's; 
yet Feuerbach treats religion as if nothing had happened since 
Descartes. His equation 'religion = self-consciousness = human 
essence' can in fact be read as a Cartesian Cogito whose object is no 
longer thought, but religion. 

Nor is that all. To the extent that the human essence is the 
essence of one natural species among others; to the extent that 
man's world, man's absolute horizon, is an Umwelt, one absolute 
horizon among others; to the extent that self-consciousness is 
assigned to the province of a biological species, Feuerbach 
regresses much further still, back to the Schoolmen and Aristotle. 
However, just as something has occurred since Descartes 
namely, the recognition of the reality of history and culture - & 
something has occurred since Aristotle - namely, the rise an a 
the recognition of modern science. That is why Feuerbach's tran- 

1 On opacity as transparency except for itself, see Feuerbach, Toward* 
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy', FB 91: 'Matter in itself is not darkness, but ra H\j 
that which is illuminable [Althusser translates 'le transparent virtuel'], ° T 
which is unilluminated only for itself.' 


dental pseudo-biology may be called transcendental, to the 
^ € n t that he attributes to the human species an absolute privilege 
e * all the other species, the privilege of taking as its object not merely 
° l [ immediate environment, that of its 'practical'^ needs (which 
stitutes the absolute horizon for animal species), but the whole 
C verse itself the speculary object of the attribute of the human 
1 cence known as need, and of the theoretical contemplative, 
disinterested power. 

jsjo doubt it is this paradoxical situation, anachronistic (philo- 
cnphically speaking) in his own day, which confers upon Feuer- 
bach's thought its ambiguous character: its regressiveness and 
impoverishment and, simultaneously, its profundity and powers 
of anticipation. When we compare Feuerbach's system of 
thought to others that are contemporary with their objects, we 
can clearly see that it lags behind them every time: it lags behind 
Hegel, and we relapse into the eighteenth century; it lags behind 
the eighteenth century, and we relapse into Descartes; it lags 
behind Descartes, and we relapse into Scholasticism and Aris- 
totle, But every time Feuerbach falls back a period and refers to 
an earlier author, he gives the categories of the earlier author in 
whose terms he is thinking a later object to think. He gives the 
materialism and anthropology of Diderot/ Rousseau, as well as 
the Cartesian Cogito, an object to think which he owes to Hegel: 
religion as a cultural object, as the actual existence of Spirit. He 
has Descartes's Cogito, again, think another object which he 
owes to Hegel: the intersubjectivity of the 'we' He has the biolo- 
gico-ontological concepts of the Schoolmen think an object which 
he owes to Descartes: modern science; and so on. 

There is no end to these displacements and substitutions. The 

reason for them is of little concern to us. We want merely to 

consider their effects) especially, for the moment, the effect of the 

P r °found ambiguity that allows Feuerbach to equate the following 

rrt[ ^ species = essence = self-consciousness = absolute knowledge. 1 

y that this equation is ambiguous; that is plain enough, because 

n olds good only if we take each term, which simultaneously 

uaes to 'immediate' realities and to datable concepts drawn 

, ^ the history of philosophy, sometimes in the sense of its 

°ncal or theoretical immediacy, and at other times in the 

th 6C * sense ^ at makes it possible to force it into relation with 

contiguous term. But I say at the same time that this ambiguity 


is not a pure and simple wordplay of no consequence: this equivocal 
opens up a space - or, rather, spaces - and produces unprecedem 
meaning-effects, which are, for this reason, effects of theoreti ** 
anticipation, effects that are themselves ambiguous and th 
authorize modern readings of Feuerbach. We shall see this in 
moment with respect to his historico-philosophical method 
However, while indicating the reason for these effects, and th 
very special kind of dialectic that sustains it (a dialectic of 
surreptitious, theoretically anachronistic substitutions), I would 
also like to point out that the very spectacular effects produced 
by Feuerbach's stealthy substitutions always occur within certain 
absolute limits: those laid down, in the final analysis, by the 
common stock of theory that defines both the problematics and 
the objects he so unpredictably combines. This means, to put it 
plainly, that the Feuerbach who desperately wanted to have 
done with classical philosophy - as he himself says, and as 
Engels repeats after him - remained just as desperately its 

But let us return to our analysis. We have derived all the 
above considerations from Feuerbach's thesis of the identity of 
man's inner life, self-consciousness, and religion. The fact remains 
that man also has an outer life, a life that puts him in practical 
and theoretical relation, precisely, with external beings, that is, 
external individuals and species, that is, in the final analysis, 
with species external to him. In these outer objects he is not bei 
sich, at home. Whereas 'the religious object exists within' man, 
the sensuous object 'exists outside man' This implies that, 'in the 
case of objects of the senses', that is, in the case of the outer, non- 
cultural, natural world, one must 'distinguish between consciousness 
of the object and self-consciousness' , y or again, 'the object in itself and 
the object for us' Is the theory of the absolute horizon compro- 
mised by this new type of relation, in which the external objetf 
is wanting or in excess with respect to self-consciousness, thati^ 
with respect to the human essence? Or - to speak a differs 
language, which is also to be found in Feuerbach - does not tn 
relation that the human species maintains with the other nature 
species, which are intrinsically [par essence] different from m^ 
human species, project the human species outside its essence • 

k Introduction, FB 109; translation modified, 


all as we can see if we bring to bear on the human 

N ot . t ^ e theory already developed with respect to the relation- 

^^iVcrhalten] that each planet maintains with a Sun that all 

& l V - n common, a relationship which, for each of the planets, 

h* s - s one and the same Sun into 'its' Sun. Feuerbach himself 

C ° n that his principle of the absolute horizon, 'far from holding 

iv for intellectual objects, even applies to sensuous objects'. 

°rJ need only bring the theory of Verhalten into play. 'Even 

e objects which are farthest removed from man are manifes- 

tions of the human essence because, and in the sense in which, 

thev a fe objects for him.' Example: the moon. 'Even the moon, 

and the sun and the stars, say to man, "xvcoOt o£ain;6v" - know 

thyself. That he sees them, that he sees them the way he does, 

bears witness to his own essence.' This is a direct application of 

the theory of Verhalten, here formulated in the expressions 'in the 

sense in which they are objects for him/ and 'that he sees them, 

that he sees them the way he does. . '' Thus it is spelled out here 

that Verhalten, the generic relationship existing between man and 

his external objects, is a modal relation ('that he sees them the 

way he does') and a relation of 'sense', both of which are in turn 

grounded in the fact that this relation exists ('that he sees 

them '). Thus the speculary relation operates in the case of 

external objects as well, but bears only on the relationship man 

maintains with them. This thesis would accordingly seem to 

refer us, as in the previous case of the planet's relation to the 

Sun, to the infinite task of the sciences of nature, whose function 

would be, precisely, to distinguish, among the various relations 

between man and his external objects, those which have to do 

Wl th the human essence from those which do not. However, a 

^ntable theoretical coup de force spares us this endless quest. 

„e short phrase 'that he sees them [these objects: the moon, etc.]' 

ears witness to his own essence' is not there to acknowledge a 

ct ualness and a finitude in the Kantian sense: 35 in other words, 

^knowledge that man is made in such a way that he sees this 

'hat, and not something else. The 'seeing' in question here is 

an empirical seeing' (man 'sees' the moon, but does not 'see' 

! ty)/ but a theoretical 'seeing', the 'seeing' of reason, of objec- 

ntr oduction, FB 101; translation modified. 


tive, scientific knowledge itself. This 'seeing 7 is an attribitf 
the human essence that distinguishes man from the animals^ °* 

The animal is moved only by the rays of light, which are essential fa 
life, but man is also moved by the rays from the remotest star, which ^ 
indifferent to his life Only man celebrates the theoretical feasts of vis** 
The eye that looks into the starry heavens, that contemplates the light ^ 
bears neither use nor harm, that has nothing in common zvith the earth a 
its needs, this eye contemplates its own nature, its own origin in that Ihii 
The eye is heavenly in its nature. Hence, it is only through the eye thai 
man rises above the earth; hence theory begins only when man directs k 
gaze towards the heavens. The first philosophers were astronomers. Th* 
heavens remind man of his destination, remind him that he is destined not 
merely to act, but also to contemplate.™ 

Quite simply, this means, as Feuerbach literally says, that man's 
peculiar object is the Universe; not the object of the whole man 
(which is what makes science abstract in comparison with 
religion), but that of man considered with regard to the attribute of 
reason. And the Universe is that which is peculiar to man because 
it is the object of a theoretical need; because man is, in the proper 
sense, a "universal being'." 

From this point on, things are simple. It is not only in the 
realm of feeling and the will that man is 'bei sich', in his own 
essence. Man also dwells in his own essence in 'vision', which is 
the ground for all perception of external objects, and thence for 
all scientific knowledge, and an attribute of the human essence- 
That is why the specific Verhalten that proceeds from the human 
essence in its relations with external species does not have to 
make the indefinite detour through science in order to be 
defined. It is immediately and adequately given by the perceptwn 
of these external objects, by virtue of an immediacy and a pre* 
existent correspondence: the one that brings man and the whole 

■" Introduction, FB 101-2. 

" Here too we need not go beyond the realm of sensuousness in or ,. kc 
recognize man as a being superior to animals. Man is not a particular being jj* 
the animal; rather, he is a universal being; he is therefore not a limited and ufl* 1 *^ 
but an unlimited and free being, for universality, being without limit **L 
freedom are inseparable/ Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, 
242. See also Feuerbach, Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy'/ f^ e 
Human form cannot be regarded as limited and finite [it is] the genus o» 
manifold animal species; it no longer exists as species in man, but as genus • 


rse itself into relation via the need for theory, the sense of 
^ imi versa ^' reason - Science can then perfectly well be an 
&* e ite task: it is infinite because the attribute of reason is itself, 
^\ all the attributes of a species, infinite in itself - we shall see 
what sense. Religion bears direct and adequate witness to the 
111 ture of this attribute and its infinite character: in the omnipotence of 
n . ? ftyhxe intelligence, man effectively lias the definition of his reason, 
•- theoretical 'seeing' That is why I think one has to say that if it 
• possible to dispense with scientific research when defining the 
cpnse in which the relation between man and external objects is 
realization of the human essence, it is owing to the existence of 
religion, the fact that religion contains, in principle, all the attributes 
of the human essence in a form adequate to their essence. In other 
words, if Feuerbach can 'go beyond' the Kantian question, that 
is, fall back into a pre-Kantian position even while taking the 
Kantian revolution into consideration, and offer us noumenal 
knowledge of the human essence, knowledge of the Transcenden- 
tal Subject, it is not by realizing the phenomenal object of the 
sciences in the form of what would be 37 a noumenal object, that 
is, by anticipating the development of the sciences and then 
confining it to a Subject by dogmatic fiat (Feuerbach's philos- 
ophy cannot be called dogmatic in this sense). Quite the contrary: 
Feuerbach 'goes beyond' Kant by invoking the adequate existence of the 
human essence in the specific object constituted by religion - an object 
which, unlike the 'objects' of the sciences in the ordinary sense, 
1$ immediately the total speculary reflection of the human essence. 
Hence it is in setting out from the privileged case of religion and 
religion alone that one can justify the utilization of the theory of 
Verhalten with respect to the relations between man and his 
external objects. 'The absolute being . . [of man] is his own 
essence. The power of the object over him is therefore the power 
. ^ s °wn essence. Therefore, the power of the object of feeling 
_ the power of feeling itself; the power of the object of reason is 
e power of reason itself; and the power of the object of will is 
e power of the will itself/ Feuerbach illustrates these theses 
y showing that, in aesthetic emotion, the emotion has to do 
y with itself; in the emotion of love, only with love; in the 
' with the will; and in reason, with reason. 3H 

° Introduction, FB 102. 


Let us sum up what we have just established. Man is the 
species on earth that takes its own essence as its own object • 
the Feuerbachian sense, because man's object is his own sped ^ 
Par excellence, this essence is given to man in religion, in vvh 
man's three essential attributes - reason, the will and the hean 
are realized in the form of an alienated object. This priviW^ 
object is the mirror of the human essence, the essence of th 
human species existing in the form of an object. Thus religi 0n • 
self-consciousness, in the sense of Absolute Self-Knowledge of 
the human essence, whether that essence is experienced and 
intended [vise] in alienated form, in which consciousness does 
not correspond to self-consciousness, or in the adequate form of 
the new philosophy - materialist, humanist atheism - in which 
consciousness does correspond to self-consciousness. It is 
because the human essence is thus given in its entirety somewhere, 
immediately present and visible* 9 on condition that it is disclosed, and, 
at the same time, because, among its attributes, this human 
essence includes reason, the universal power to 'see' and thus to 
know (universal because it takes the Universe as its object), that 
the objective, external existence of sensuous objects is not prob- 
lematic for the theory of man. This problem is solved in advance; its 
solution is always-already given in the essence of reason, which is, 
precisely, the faculty of the outer world, the attribute whose object is 
the Universe itself Thus the theory of the absolute horizon applies 
without restriction to man, whose Umwelt coincides with the 
(objective) Welt or Universe. This is how Feuerbach 'goes 
beyond' the pseudo-biological subjectivism of the absolute hori- 
zon of the species. Because the human species is a universal 
species, the only universal species, it escapes the subjective Hi* 11 ' 
tations of a particular horizon. The particularity and subjectivity 
of the absolute horizon are peculiar to animal, vegetable and 
mineral species. Universality and objectivity, on the other hand/ 
are peculiar to the human species. 

Thus it is easy to grasp the theoretical procedure that Feue 
bach utilizes. He begins by constructing a theory of the absoW 
horizon that holds for all species; this theory has a biological c ^ 
and, taken literally, can obviously only lock him into a subject* 
ism of species, a relativism similar to that with which & 
nineteenth-century German Geistesphilosophie wrestled. ^ X ^L 
the framework of this theory, it is not enough to grant ntf* 1 


'Icqc of self-consciousness, of an inner object that adequately 
P* 1 eSS es, albeit in alienated form, his own generic essence; 
: n terpreted rigorously, this privilege does not suffice to save 
absolute horizon of the human species from its subjectivism, 
v a t this point that Feuerbach adds something to the human 
ence, a faculty, a specific attribute which possesses the extra- 
dinary property of transcending the subjectivity of the spe- 
. s: the faculty of theoretical 'seeing' - reason. It is at this point 
that Feuerbach's naturalism and biologism reveal themselves 
for what they are: a pseudo-naturalism and a pseudo-biologism 
that play their foundational role in order to sustain the thesis 
of the universality of the human species, that is, in order to 
ground a theory of the objective knowledge of the Universe. 
As I said a moment ago, Feuerbach's biology seems to take us 
all the way back to Aristotle; but this pseudo-biology is at the 
same time assigned responsibility for the object of Modern 
Times, the sciences of Nature and their rationality. However, 
this rationality is not, is no longer, the rationality of a Descartes, 
a Leibniz or a Spinoza: for reason is only one of the three essential 
attributes of man, along with the (ethical) will and the heart) 
and it is an attribute that exists in its plenitude only if it con- 
sents to acknowledge its intimate union with the other two. 40 
Feuerbachian reason is simultaneously the heart and the will 
(or freedom), just as the heart in its turn is also reason and 
*e will, and the will is reason and the heart. That is why 
religion enjoys the exceptional privilege that Feuerbach accords 
rt* for it is itself this unity from the outset, whereas science is 
merely science, merely reason, and therefore abstract. Some- 
j^ng has indeed happened since the Cartesians' day: precisely 
ne recognition, which finds its consecration in Hegel's philos- 
Pty> that reason and freedom truly exist only in practice, 
^ exist, in practice, in cultural objects 41 such as religion. Feu- 
ach adopts this Hegelian result and bends it to his own ends, 
imposing it to the Cartesian categories of the identity of the 
ject and self-consciousness as well as to the Aristotelian eat- 
eries of species and individual From Hegel, he takes the 
^ °f Absolute Spirit constituted by religion, but he amends 
§ e ! by making religion Absolute Knowledge. He thinks this cul- 


uction, FB 128. 


tural object containing Absolute Knowledge in terms of *u 
Cartesian categories of the identity of self-consciousness and th 
object And he grounds this identity in an Aristotelian theory f 
species, the foundation for the theory of the absolute horizon 
This is how the Hegelian theory of Absolute Knowledge 
becomes, in Feuerbach, the theory of the absolute horizon of the 
human species. 

Let me point out an essential feature of this theory straight 
away: it is simultaneously a theory of knowledge and of practice 
This unity is founded on the unity, evoked a moment ago, of the 
attributes of the human essence: the unity of reason, the will and 
the heart. It is owing to this unity that, within the field of man's 
absolute horizon, everything that is an object of reason simul- 
taneously is, or can be, an object of practice, the will and love. 
'Does not the aim determine the act?' That is why man contemplates 
his own essence in religion, since, in God, he rediscovers his 
own reason, his own activity, and his own feelings. 'Thus in God 
man confronts his own activity as an object.'? With this last con- 
clusion, we see Feuerbach dissolving what he considers an 
abstraction in Kant's theory, the distinction between theoretical 
and practical reason, at the same time as he dissolves the 
distinction between reason and sensibility. He thus retreats 
behind Kant; however, he takes something of Hegel with him as 
he does so: the Hegelian critique of the distinction between 
nature and freedom - something that depends on Hegel's con- 
ception of the Idea, but shorn of the dialectic. A post-Kantian by 
dint of his conception of the unity of nature and freedom, theory 
and practice, Feuerbach nevertheless regresses to pre-Kantian 
positions, since, when all is said and done, he merely forges a 
new variant of rational theology. But, as we shall soon see, there 
exists a determining relation between the conjunction of this 
'pre' and 'post' on the one hand, and, on the other, Feuerbach s 
'discovery', his specific innovation: his theory of religion as tn 
essence of man, his humanist atheism. , 

This innovation, precisely, produces astonishing effects 
anticipation in the analytical method that Feuerbach appM es 
Christianity in The Essence of Christianity. I would like to p aU 
over Feuerbach's method, for it anticipates certain effects 
Husserlian Phenomenology by elaborating a veritable ph 1 
ophy of signification, a hermeneutics. As you will have note 


ing/ ^ S possibility is raised, if one is willing to disregard 

P a i e tter of Feuerbach's text, from the moment he sets forth his 

h orv °' ^ e °bj ect: m particular, the theory of the essential 

7 lationship' between an being and its object [Verlialten], When 

ue rbach tells us that the specific mode in which a being relates 
a n external object constitutes its peculiar object, in other 

ords, its peculiar essence, and also reveals it, especially when 
he appli es this theory of Verhalten to the perception of objects, it 
. ^possible not to see in this an anticipation, couched in terms 

e ma y here treat as metaphorical, of a theory of the intention- 
ality of consciousness. It is, indeed, the relationship within which 
the object is perceived by consciousness, a relationship that 
makes the object 'its' object, which reveals the nature of the 
being that intends [viser] the object in the mode peculiar to this 
intentional process [visee]. To be sure, Feuerbach speaks the 
language of being and object, but it is readily translated into 
another, that of the Cogito and its cogitatum, and that of the 
mode of intentional consciousness. It is this mode which deter- 
mines the 'signification' (the word is to be found in Feuerbach 
himself) of the object intended in this relationship. Even better, 
we can say that there is in Feuerbach much more than a simple 
theory of perception as intentional consciousness; one finds in 
him a theory of the intentionality of consciousness in general To be 
sure, he does not speak the language of Phenomenology here 
either: he speaks the language of the 'faculties'. But when he 
says that the human essence comprises three faculties, reason, 
the will and the heart, he puts great emphasis on the unity of 
these three attributes, which exist separately, in his view, only in 
the abstraction of alienation. Rather than of three faculties, then, 
ne m ust speak of three modes of the same essence, the same being. 
^d as these three modes are those of a relationship to the object 

a * is identical with the relationship to the object of perception, 

e can legitimately and without strain translate Feuerbach's 
5uage to say that reason, the will and the heart are, in his 
u ' the equivalent of different modes of one and the same 
the e ^ . & structure, which may be termed the intentionality of 
Co eatl °n$hip to the object, that is, the intentionality of an intentional 
scio ° Usness ' Feuerbach's attributes then become thinking con- 
f^. nes s, act consciousness, and consciousness of emotional 
It is these theoretical implications which found the 


utterly novel method at work in the interpretation of religj 
Christianity in particular, 

Feuerbach reflects on this unprecedented method in the s** 
ond Preface to The Essence of Christianity. It can most assuredl * 
be said that he manages to define it only in retrospect, as if u 
had put it to work before grasping its specificity. This mean 
precisely, that it must in some way have been authorized as a 
effect by the theoretical concepts in which he thought. Thus we 
shall have the surprise of seeing Feuerbach himself proceeding 
exactly the same way we have: he will offer us, as one of the 
effects of his own theory, an equivalent of the translation that 
we have just presented. 

This is how Feuerbach, replying to the critics who have 
misunderstood his interpretation of Christianity, describes his 
method: 'my work does not wish to accomplish anything more 
than a faithfully sense-oriented translation or, to put it non- 
metaphorically, an empirical or historico-philosophical analysis of 
the Christian religion designed to resolve its enigmas.'"* This 
passage occurs in the Preface to the second edition of The Essence 
of Christianity (1843). It is the passage containing the crucial 
phrase: 'to discover rather than invent, to "disclose existence" 
[Dasein zu enthullen], has been my only objective" 'I let religion 
itself speak; I only listen to it and function as its interpreter 
rather than its prompter/' The equivalence established between 
these concepts leaps to the eye: Feuerbach's philosophy is only a 
disclosure, and - for him, it amounts to the same thing - a 
disclosure of existence, of the factually existent, or, again, a 
disclosure of sense ('a faithful, sense-oriented translation', sinnge- 
treue Ubersetzung)* In the light of what we have already 
explained, we can write: to disclose essence = to disclose the 
(factually) existent = to disclose sense. Identifying essence, the 
factually existent, and sense by virtue of its theory of the object 

q Feuerbach, Preface to the Second Edition of The Essence of Christianity* r 

r Ibid., p. 254; translation modified. 

* See ibid., pp. 259-60: 'We should not make the determinations and po^ . 
of reality, of real beings and things, into arbitrary signs symbols *» 

predicates of a being that is distinguished from them rather, we should &*\ 
them in the sense that they have in themselves [in der Bedeutung nehtnetx 
erfassen, welche sie fur sich selbst haben (Althusser's interpolation)].' 


erbach's philosophy makes possible, through this series of 
Inherently equivocal identifications, theoretical effects that give 

j f anticipate, by virtue of its materialist empiricism); 

to a n analytical method which, in the literal sense, antici- 
fl tes the phenomenological reduction. 
Let us state this more precisely. 44 Feuerbach shows that if his 
aders have misunderstood him, it is because they have sought 
. his work an answer to the vexed problem of the historical 
, x j S teiice, the historical origins of the Christian religion or one or 
another of its components: Christ, to begin with, the miracles, 
this or that rite, and so on. That was the method of the historians 
and critics of the Christian religion. It is not Feuerbach's. His 
analysis is 

historico-philosophical as against the purely historical analyses of 
Christianity The historian - for example, Daumer - shows that the 
Last Supper is a rite going back to the ancient cult of human sacrifice; 
that once real human flesh and blood instead of wine and bread 
were partaken. I, on the other hand, make only the Christian signifi- 
cation, or the signification sanctioned within the Christian position, 
the object of my analysis and reduction [Reduktion in German]' in 
pursuance of the principle that the signification which a dogma or 
institution has in Christianity (naturally not in contemporary, but in 
ancient, true Christianity), no matter whether it prevails in other 
religions or not, is also the true origin 45 of that dogma or institution 
to the extent that it is Christian. Or, again, the historian - for 
example, Liitzelberger - shows that the narratives of the miracles of 
Christ resolve themselves into contradictions and incompatibilities, 
that they are later concoctions, that, consequently, Christ was never 
a miracle worker, never that which the Bible has made him out to 
be- For my part, I do not ask what the real, natural Christ was or 
m ay have been in distinction from the fictitious or supernaturalistic 
Christ; taking the Christ of religion for granted, I rather show that 
this superhuman being is nothing else than a product and object of 
the supernatural human mind. I do not ask whether this miracle or 
that, whether a miracle in general can happen at all; I only show 
w hat a miracle is and, indeed, not a priori, but by referring to the 
j^amples of miracles narrated in the Bible as real events; in doing so, 
However, I answer the question as to the possibility, reality, or 

l9m FeUerbach ' Sitmtliche Werke, ed. Wilhelm Bolin and Friedrich Jodl, Stuttgart, 
U ^a vol. 7, p. 290. 


necessity of miracles in a way so as to liquidate the possibility c 
such questions." ' 

If we read this passage closely, we see that it breaks with th 
historical interpretation of Christianity - that is to say, with a 
interpretation that proceeds by confronting the propositions of 
Christianity (communion, Christ, the miracles) with reality. F eu 
erbach rejects this problematic; indeed, he takes the opposit 
tack, posing the problem 'so as to liquidate the possibility of all 
such questions' Now these questions all bear on reality, that is 
on theses of existence. We may conclude that the historico-philo! 
sophical method 46 is based on the suspension of the thesis of the 
existence of its object. Feuerbach does not ask about the existence 
of Christ, miracles, and so on, or pose the theoretical questions 
that follow from the assumption that they exist (are miracles 
possible? can Christ, that is, the man-God, have existed?, etc.). 
He brackets such questions, and asks only about the signification 
immanent in the propositions or institutions of Christianity, with 
a view to disclosing that signification. 

That is why he can describe his method as a 'reduction' His 
'analysis' is a 'reduction'. This reduction bears on the signification 
of the object, without regard for its existence. It is the suspension 
of the assumption of existence that makes the reduction possible, 
by isolating the object of the reduction, signification, from all 
questions of existence. 

The reduction that thus brings out signification is realized by 
way of an analysis of the available 'examples'. This suggests that 
Feuerbach effects a kind of eidetic variation, carried out across a 
range of the concrete variants of one and the same signification 
in the examples with which Christianity provides him. 

The core of these variants is constituted by the original signify 
cation, not the subsequent distortions or alienations 47 it under- 
goes. That is why Feuerbach analyses Christian significations & 
their 'true origin', that of early Christianity. He does not examin* 
just any origin, but the Christian origin of a signification; this 
means that he does not, when he looks at early Christianity/ 
examine a historical origin, but an a priori origin that transcends 
any possible empirical history, an origin that is the very c° n ~ 

Feuerbach, Preface to the Second Edition of The Essence of Christianity/ r 
260-61; translation modified. 


f possibility of this history and its distortions. The early 
d' n .^ii Christianity that Feuerbach examines is thus original 
\P T '. nif] not in the historical, but in the transcendental sense of 
\P r wor d. The origin is the relation represented by the equals 
. 4H the original signification, and that is why Feuerbach can 
readily find examples of it in early Christianity as in the 
a . na tions of modern religion, theology, or even philosophy and 

If we draw up a balance sheet of these principles, we obtain 

the following system: 

1. a suspension of the thesis of existence; 

2. the method of reduction, which makes it possible to home 
in on signification; 

3. the beginnings of an eidetic variation carried out through 
an analysis of examples; 

4. the original nature of the signification. 

Thus we have a set of theoretical principles strikingly reminis- 
cent of the principles informing the method of the Husserlian 
reduction. Of course, in Feuerbach this transcendental reduction 
is everywhere sustained by a noumenal theory of the human 
essence, but this articulation of a transcendental reduction with 
a rational theology or anthropological dogmatism is itself, in his 
work, an ambiguous, shifting, unstable articulation, precisely 
because, if it is constantly affirmed and proclaimed by Feuer- 
bach, it is not as rigorously grounded as it is loudly proclaimed. 
As a result, the body of principles that I have just listed, which 
" 0f s comprise a rigorous theoretical system, in contrast to the 
combination of transcendental reduction with anthropological 
d °gmatism (or, again, of a philosophy of signification with a 
Philosophy °f the human essence), can function relatively inde- 
pendently, by virtue of its coherence and theoretical rigour. This 
Native autonomy of a body of principles founding a new 
ethod is undeniably one of the theoretical effects of the heter- 
lte nature (in the already defined sense) of the unstable 
e oretical combination that comprises Feuerbach's thought. It is 
cause Feuerbach thinks in conceptual equations that are anach- 
ls hc, and thus lack any overall theoretical rigour, that he can 
a Uce regional theoretical effects which are at once rigorous 
° r iginal. It is because he brings together theoretical elements 


tlwt cannot be thought in a single, unified whole that he in fact open 
up, in certain regions, new theoretical fields. His astonishin 
anticipation of the phenomenological reduction is an exampl 
But one can also ask, in a wholly critical sense this time, whethe 
this result is not, in the case to hand, an effect of these theoreti, 
cally anachronistic combinations, these theoretically unstable 
unities. I mean, to be precise, that it is no accident that Feuer- 
bach's historico-philosophical method (which he elsewhere calls 
genetico-critical) is predicated on an anthropological philosophy 
The theory of the object, the theory of the intentionality f 
consciousness, the theory of reduction and original signification 
are all descended, in Feuerbach, from one fundamental thesis 
that of the Absolute Knowledge of the human essence in its objects; 
par excellence, in the object par excellence known as religion, man's 
object of objects just as man is the name of names. This presup- 
position has the advantage of being explicit in Feuerbach; that is 
the positive side of his theoretical naivety. It is not irrelevant to 
the 'Theses on Feuerbach' 49 or to a possible critical examination 
of that Phenomenology which, as the example of its founder 
shows, seeks desperately to forge a transcendental philosophy 
that will not lapse into a transcendental or empirical psychology 
or anthropology. 

Before summing up the elements of the theory of the absolute 
horizon, and drawing the consequences as far as the fate of the 
Feuerbachian concepts in Marx is concerned, we must develop 
one more point and give a more precise definition of one word: 
the adjective absolute, 50 of which I have already spoken. 

The absolute horizon is absolute for each species because that 
horizon constitutes its world, beyond which nothing exists for it 
'Horizon' is, precisely, the concept that expresses the absolute 
limit on all possible signification for a given species, a h^ 
beyond which nothing exists for that species. For a given species, 
there is nothing on the far side of its absolute horizon, which & 
defined by its essence, its faculties, its power. To affirm that the 
absolute horizon has its 'beyond' is to affirm that the object as i 
exists for a species exists in a form different in itself But 

/ can make the distinction between the object as it is in itself and the oty e 
as it is for me only where an object can really appear different from Ww 
actually appears to me. I cannot make such a distinction where the ovj 


nrtctirs to me as it does according to my absolute measure; that is, as it 
must appear to me* 

That is w ^y theories of religion as anthropomorphic conceptions 
f God are nonsense. For they are based on the distinction 
ftveen the in-itself of God, supposedly beyond man's compass, 
j the human representation of God, God for-us. The distinc- 
tion between the in-itself and the for-the-species is possible for 
onlv one species, the one that has access to the in-itself of things, 
that is, objective knowledge of the Universe: the human species. 
For example, neither a planet, nor a caterpillar, nor a plant can 
distinguish between the Sun in itself and 'its sun'; only man can, 
by means of rational knowledge. But this very distinction, in so 
far as the human species is capable of drawing it, does not come 
into play for it as a species, since the distinction itself coincides 
with the generic essence of man. 'If my conception corresponds 
to the measure of my species, the distinction between what 
something is in itself and what it is for me ceases; for in that 
case this conception is itself an absolute one. The measure of the 
species is the absolute measure, law, and criterion of man/ w 

What room does this absolute leave for the relative? The 

relative 51 constituted by the speculary relation between the 

essence of the species and its absolute horizon is, for the species, 

not relative, but absolute. Nor does the relative exist outside this 

absolute horizon, since [there] is no outside for the species. The 

relative can accordingly exist only within the field of this absolute 

horizon, as a difference between the individual and the species. That is 

why Feuerbach always speaks of the relation between the species 

a nd itself as constitutive of its peculiar object, its world of 

conceptions corresponding to the measure of the species/ and 

n °* of the relation between the individual and the species, or of 

conceptions that reflect only the individual's measure. Feuerbach 

Glares that which reflects the essence of the individual to be 

Objective or imaginary, and thus relative. That which expresses 

e e ssence of the species he declares to be objective and abso- 

e The subjective and the relative merely express the lack of 

res Pondence between the individual and the species, that is, once 

o ln / a misrecognition, since 'the essence of the species is the 

Reduction, FB 113. 
introduction, FBI 13-14. 


absolute essence of the individual' x This misrecognition is (?) . 
the final analysis, the foundation of alienation, as we shall sJT 
in any event, it is one of the forms of abstraction (separating kk ' 
essence of the individual from his absolute essence: that of th 
species) which constitutes alienation. 

That neither the beyond nor the relative exists for the specie 
has one last consequence: the infinity of the absolute horizon 
Infinity is defined as the absence of limits: 

Every being is sufficient to itself. No being can deny itself, its own 
nature; no being is intrinsically limited. Rather, every being is m 
itself infinite; it carries its God - that which is the highest being to it 
- within itself. Every limit of a being is a limit only for another being 
that is outside and above it. The life of the ephemera is extraordi- 
narily short as compared with animals whose life span is longer; and 
yet this short span of life is just as long for them as a life of many 
years for others. The leaf on which the caterpillar lives is for it a 
world, an infinite spaced 

This is how this general principle is applied to man: 

Therefore, whatever the object of which we become conscious, we 
always become conscious of our own being; we cannot set anything 
in morion without setting ourselves in morion. And since willing, 
feeling, and thinking are perfections, essences, and realities, it is 
impossible that while indulging in them we experience reason, 
feeling, and will as limited or finite; namely, as worthless. It is 
impossible to be conscious of will, feeling, and reason only as finite 
powers, because every perfection, every power, every being is the 
immediate verification and confirmation [Bewahrheitung, Bekr&fti- 
gung]' of itself. One cannot love, will, or think without experiencing 
these activities as perfections [Vollkommenheiten]; one cannot perceive 
oneself to be a loving, willing, and thinking being without experienc- 
ing an infinite joy in being so. a * 

In the infinite faculties of God, it is this infinity of his faculties 
that man worships and hence acknowledges, unbeknown *° 
himself. It is this infinity of the human faculties which opens up 
before man the infinite field of knowledge, freedom and love, & 

N Introduction, FB 104; translation modified. 
> Introduction, FB 104. 
' Feuerbach, Siimtiiche Werke, vol. 6, p. 7. 
AA Introduction, FB 102. 


rticular the infinite field of the natural sciences, whose infinite 

P a foment, far from being a transcendental obstacle to self- 

sciousness, that is, to man's absolute self-knowledge, 

C ° omes, rather, a manifestation of the infinity of the human 

nce Feuerbach can, with perfect serenity, declare himself to 

in favour of the natural sciences and their infinite develop- 

ent, without the slightest fear of the consequences as far as the 

knowledge f man's essence is concerned, for the very good 

reason that he possesses, in the Absolute Knowledge of man's 

essence, the infinite attribute of reason, which constitutes the 

absolute condition of possibility for the categories of any natural 


Let us now try to sum up the basic propositions of the theory 
of the absolute horizon, and then examine the effects they have 
in Marx's early works. 

1. The theoretical proposition on which everything depends 
is constituted by the equation: 'essence of a being (species) = its 
objectified essence = its object' This can also be written: subject 
= its object. 

This is a speculary relation, constitutive of a space defined by 
its centre and horizon. The subject occupies the centre and the 
object the horizon. The object is the mirror of the subject. This 
speculary relation may also be written: 'object = self-conscious- 
ness of the subject = absolute knowledge of the subject' The 
remarkable thing is that these different equations rest on certain 
basic concepts, arranged in pairs by classical philosophy since 
Descartes: subject / object, consciousness / self-consciousness, 
essence / phenomenon. 

2. Once this speculary relation has been established, it is 

reversible. Whether one is in the subject or the object, one is 

jtever anywhere else than in the essence of the subject; one never 
le aves it. 

However, from the standpoint of the genesis of the object as 
.» i as from the standpoint of the knowledge of the essence of 
subject, this relation is not reversible: it necessarily runs in 
0nJ y one direction. 

From the standpoint of the genesis of the object, the relation 
trom subject to object, from the essence to its phenomenon 

e central position of the subject in Feuerbach's topography 


accounts for this direction/sense. The object emanates froiti tk 
subject, and is nothing more than its objectification. Feuerba k 
utilizes the following concepts to express this direchon/sensT 
objectification, realization, manifestation, and also products 
He talks about the essence of the subject as constituted K 
powers or forces [Krafte]; he even talks about the being's w/ 
ductive power 7 [produktierende Wesen$kraft]. bb All these concept 
reappear in Marx's early works; one can see 52 the place the 
concepts of powers, forces, and the productive forces of individ- 
uals hold in The German Ideology, 

Feuerbach also describes this objectification of the subject in 
its object as the affirmation, confirmation and self-satisfaction of 
the subject. He thereby expresses the lived adequation of the 
subject to itself in the form of its object. These concepts, too, 
reappear in Marx's early works and The German Ideology. 

Without anticipating, let us say that the Feuerbachian concept 
of the speculary subject-object relation reappears in all its purity 
in the 1844 Manuscripts, in the speculary form of the relation 
between producer and product. One can see 53 that the concept of 
product in the 1844 Manuscripts stands in exactly the same 
relation to that of producer (or worker) as the concept of object 
to that of subject in Feuerbach. 

4. From the standpoint of the genesis of knowledge of the 
subject, the relation runs from object to subject, from the 
phenomenon to its essence. It is in the object that one can come 
to know the subject. It is in the object that one must come to 
know the subject. What one finds in the object, one will find 
again in the subject; but one can decipher the essence of the 
subject only in its object. 

This thesis finds its application in Feuerbach in the case of 
religion. It is in religion that man can attain self-knowledge. 

We rediscover a trace of this thesis of Feuerbach's in Marx $ 
first Feuerbachian works, especially in the form of the idea thai 
all criticism has to set out from criticism of religion. 54 In Mar*' 
however, there is a rapid shift in the point of application of tn*j 
thesis. Marx passes successively from religion to politics art 
from politics to economics. The transition to politics is made tfj 
the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, The Jewish Question, an 

bb Introduction, FB 104; Feuerbach, Samtliche Werke, vol. 6, p, 9. 


The transition to economics is made in the 1844 Manu- 
s° . I an d The Holy Family. The shift in the point of application, 
ever, in no way alters the Feuerbachian schema. To begin 
b° . j t remains true that the human essence can be read or 
^ nhered - that is, disclosed - in a specific object (politics and, 
economics); this presupposes that the basic speculary rela- 
■ n between subject and object is maintained. Moreover, there 
rill exists a privileged object, one that constitutes a compendium 
( the human essence: it is no longer religion but, initially, 
olitics (politics is man's religion, the heaven of his existence'), 55 
and then political economy (in the 2844 Manuscripts). Finally, the 
fact that the objectification of the human essence is condensed in 
a privileged object does not eliminate the other forms of exist- 
ence of the human essence; they are, however, merely phenom- 
ena of this primordial object. Thus, in the 1844 Manuscripts, 
politics, ethics and religion are merely subordinate aspects of the 
privileged object represented by the economy. 

5. This has a fundamental consequence for the method that 
all knowledge of the human essence requires. Such knowledge 
is not research and production - that is, a labour of theoretical 
transformation - but pure and simple disclosure, pure and 
simple confession. The word may be found in the letters to 
Ruge. 56 The thing it refers to is everywhere in the Early Works, 
especially in the 1844 Manuscripts. It is simply a matter of 
straightforwardly 'reading' [herauslesen] the great open book of 
man's specific object by revealing its text - simply a matter of 
reading the text without altering anything in it or adding any- 
thing to it. At the practical level, we can put this 57 to the test in 
the 1844 Manuscripts: Marx does not modify a single one of the 
economists' concepts, but simply reads them by relating them to 
eir hidden essence: the alienation of human labour and, by 
a y of this alienation, of the human essence. 
• This has one final consequence: that one ultimately reads 
y texts, that one ultimately deciphers only texts or discourses, 
«en or not. That is why, in the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx merely 
he fT to ta ^ a b° ut *he reality of economic practice. In fact, 
^ ks only about the discourses of the classical economists; he 
h e not s P e ak about any object that could be called a practise, 
did °f an object that is a discourse. That is what Feuerbach 

w ell: he talked about the object known as religion, which 


also has the property of being a discourse; to be very precis^ 
ideological discourse in so far as it is ideological By that I It ,' 
that the ideological exists in the form of a discourse, and that fh 
only form of existence - or, at any rate, the form of existen * 
which is equally privileged by Feuerbach and Marx at the tir** 

- is the form of discourse, since they talk only of discourse-object 
and since it is only to discourse-objects that one can apply ^ 
correlative method of disclosure and confession. What is a con- 
fession? It is a discourse that rectifies a previous discourse bv 
disclosing its true signification. Practically, this means that, at 
the level of what he actually does, the Marx of this period agrees 
with Feuerbach that one should not talk about practice, even in 
describing the producer's production of his product; one should 
talk only about ideological discourses, verbal or not, as constitutive 
of the human essence and reality. This means that Marx has not 
yet rejected the primacy of the ideological in history, even when 
he affirms, in the 1844 Manuscripts, the primacy of economic 
production. It is only in the 'Theses on Feuerbach' that the theme 
of practice comes to the fore, for the first time, as a concept. 

One more word about a quite spectacular - albeit involuntary 

- effect of the heteroclite, reactive conjunction of the theoretical 
components that go to make up Feuerbach's thought. I have 
already pointed to one such effect, the anticipation of the 
phenomenological reduction and hermeneutics; this may be con- 
sidered an ideological effect. I would like to point out two 
others, positive this time. 

~ First positive effect: ideological theory and theory of ideology 

This effect is one of the products of the speculary theory of 
the object, an altogether paradoxical product. In Feuerbach, the 
speculary theory of the object - which is, moreover, sustained by 
and grounded in his materialist-empiricist theory of knowledge 

- can be regarded as the historico-theoretical source of three 
theoretical effects observable in the history of Marx an^ 

1. This theory survives in the Marxist theory of ideology as it ^ 
found in the Manuscripts f The Holy Family, and even the 'These 
on Feuerbach 7 , but also, to a certain extent, in The Gefl^ 

The essence of the speculary theory of the object is to 
found in the equation 'object = essence of the subject'. Gi v 


rbach's empiricism, it is also possible to write object = 
f e orXr or real empirical object = religion. If we spell this out, 
f6 have: the mystery of such-and-such a speculative or religious 
^ struction = such-and-such an empirical fact. 
C ° Consider the Eucharist and Baptism: 

iy e give a true significance to Baptism, only by regarding it as a 
symbol of the value of water itself. Baptism should represent to us 
the wonderful but natural effect of water on man. The profound- 
es t secrets lie in common everyday things. Eating and drinking is 
the mystery of the Eucharist. One need only interrupt the ordi- 
nary course of things in order to given to common things an 
uncommon significance; to life, as such, a religious signification.™ 

This is expressed in the equation: such-and-such an everyday act 
or empirical fact explains the 'mystery' [Riitsel] or enigma of 
such-and-such a practice or religious dogma. 

This thesis has been taken over wholesale in the 1844 Manu- 
scripts (we shall see how), and is spelled out in the Eighth Thesis 
on Feuerbach: 'Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries 
which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational solution 
in human practice and the comprehension of this practice.' What 
we have here is the identity 'human practice = essence of the 
enigma of mysticism', an identity cast in the form of an adequa- 
tion. It is cast in the form of the same adequation in The German 

This thesis is fundamentally Feuerbachian, and grounds the 
critique of Hegelian speculation as speculative empiricism: the 
rec ogniHon/misrecognition of fact and its presentation in trav- 
estied form as the essence of speculation. This misrecognition = 
Venation. 58 

Thus we have: empirical object, empirical fact, empirical prac- 

Ce / and so on = essence of its religious, speculative or ideologi- 

al alienation. This paves the way for what has been incorrectly 

S^rded as a Marxist theory of the ideological. Such-and-such an 

Pirical given, empirical condition, empirical practice, empiri- 

* a ct, and so on, is correlated, by way of an equation (with as 

fo ^ me ^ a ^ ons as y ou like), with such-and-such a segment or 

Nation of the ideological Today this is the massively domi- 

275-8; translation modified. 


nant theory of the Marxist conception of ij eo i 
Goldfnann) * °SV (^ 

The structure of this conception - or, rather, the f^. 
required by this conception - can easily be broken down • ^e 
following theoretical elements: ^ the 

(a) At one end, as essence, an originary fact, or a practi 
empirical conditions (which can even be class relati ***' ° r 
relations of class struggle). °* 

(b) At the other end, the corresponding ideological formati 
or one of its segments, the phenomenon of this essence ^ 

(c) Between the two, the necessity of producing the genesis 
the phenomenon; in other words, the necessity of demo 
strating the persistence of the originary essence down 
through the long line [filiation] of mediations that ulfr 
mately culminate in the phenomenon of this essence 

Origin, genesis, mediations: three concepts basic to this con- 
ception/ all three of them included in the equation 'facts or 
empirical conditions = the essence of ideology' This 'Marxist' 
thesis subsists even in Capital:™ 'It is much easier to discover by 
analysis the earthly core of the misty creations of religion, than, 
conversely, to develop from the actual relations of life the 
corresponding celestial forms of those relations. The latter 
method is the only materialistic, and therefore the only scientific 

one/ dJ 

To rectify this ideological conception of ideology, one must 
obviously abandon, first, the model it is based on, the theory of the 
speculary object, and, second, the concepts in which it exists: origin/ 
genesis mediation, reflection. 

The strategic point: everything is commanded by the concep 
of genesis, which is the conceptual translation of the equals sig^- 
Hence the need for a radical critique of the ideology of genes* 5 ' 
as well as the need to elaborate a non-genetic theory of historic 
irruption, independently of a structural-functional theory of tn 
ideological in its articulation with other instances. , 

2. Second effect: a theory of reflection as a theory, not now 

dd Karl Marx, Capital, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, New 
1967, vol- 1, p. 373. 



ical, but rather of knowledge. Classic in Marxism since 
#* *f Sfken'up again by Lenin. 

£ n # lemicaL negative, and therefore ideological value of this 
^ n should be distinguished from its theoretical value. 
c ofl ce P - t j ca i-ideological standpoint, it represents a struggle 
F^ 01 objectivism, relativism, psychologism and sociologism 
*^ nS [ear in Lenin). The reflection theory is the theory of the 
(Ve *V ritv of knowledge. As for its positive theoretical value, it is 
°^ eC .^[ e r even nil. One can derive nothing positive from an 
^logical theory that is polemical, and therefore negative. 
' e | ete theoretical sterility of a correct [juste] ideological 

fence when it is left to itself and as is. Right opinions, by 
themselves, produce nothing. 

3. Here is the third effect, a veritable 'ruse of unreason' 
(ultimately, there are never ruses of reason, only of unreason). 

In the classical Marxist tradition, the Feuerbachian theory of 
the speculary object served to found a Marxist pseudo-theory of 
ideology, an ideological theory of ideology. That is to say, we 
cannot regard the Feuerbachian theory of speculary reflection as 
the foundation of a (Marxist) theory of ideology. However - this 
is the ruse of unreason - it so happens that the Feuerbachian 
theory of speculary reflection does provide us with a remarkable 
description of certain essential features of the structure of ideology. 

(a) First and foremost: the category of the mirror, or speculary 
reflection, or reflection. This category defines, not the rela- 
tion between ideology and its real conditions of existence, 
which is external to ideology, but the relation, internal to 
ideology, between two categories constitutive of the ideo- 
logical: subject and object (essence and phenomenon). We 
may say that the relation subject = object is typical of the 
structure of any ideology or ideological formation. Con- 
trary to the claims of the classical Marxist tradition, which 
bears the stamp of a certain empiricism, the category of 
reflection - not in its polemical-critical-ideological sense, 
but in its positive sense, as real determination, is relevant not 
to the theory of objective knowledge but, without a doubt, 

Dfl/, Fnedrich Engels, Herr Eugeti Diihring's Revolution in Science (Anti- 

rm &, trans. Emile Burns, CW 25, passim. 


to the structure of the ideological, in which a 
reflection of correspondence between the s u^^v 
essence and the object or its phenomenon comes * '^ °r 
All ideology is essentially speculary. °P^y. 

(b) Still better: this speculary structure appears as cent 

the subject or essence. Hence: speculary structure - ^ 
tu re of cen tring. ~* s ^ 

(c) Still better: the structural effect of speculary centri 
reduplication. This is what we have in the form of s ^ ^ 
lary reality. It necessarily follows that the object, wH K^ 
the object of the subject, is also inevitably the subject ** 
the subject. The centred speculary structure necessaril 
gives rise to this exchange of roles. That is why the obiert 
of the man-subject is God, who is the Supreme Subject 
That is the sense of the Feuerbachian theory of religion 
Specularity thus reduplicates the terms between which it 
operates. There is a subject only on condition that the 
subject is reduplicated by a subject who then becomes fee 
Subject of the subject who thereupon becomes the object 
of this subject. This inversion of sense /direction is typical 
of the structure of the ideological; but while Marx per- 
ceives it in his early works, The German Ideology, and even 
Capital as an inversion that inverts the relation between 
the outside and the inside of the ideological, this inversion 
is in reality internal to the structure of the ideological. The 
old formula, which comes from Spinoza, to the effect that 
religion is the world turned upside-down, or from Hegel 
to the effect that philosophy is the world turned upside- 
down, a formula adopted by Feuerbach and then Marx tfj 
the form of the watchword: 'the inversion must 
inverted so that ideology may be put back on its feet an 
destroyed as ideology' - this old formula has a merey 
metaphorical meaning as a theory of the relations betw 
the real and the ideological; but it has a positive, scten P 
meaning as far as the internal structure between 
elements constitutive of the ideological is conce 

However, if this characteristic of inversion is intert 

the ideological, we can deduce from it no practical 

elusion that can identify the transformation or elimtfi 
of the ideological through a counter-inversion, the in 


f the inversion. Or, rather, we may consider that the 
si° n .„, Q f inversion does not affect the ideological since it 

'''* . r_ ..-.-..- lU/> ^lv*ir>l-MVG s\f ilia \Aor\\r\rrinn\ Vt\i n^lsiAmnlaAo^ 

\ __ that is, practically, by making it work. Yet this 


is at work in what is known as 'dialogue' as 

r j re i n forces the structure of the ideological by acknowledg- 

P 'ved by Garaudy: bl to put religion back on its feet 
h recognizing its 'rational kernel', and so on; that is, by 
treating it as ^ ^ were ^ e ^ nver ^d reflection of the real, 
whereas this inversion is merely internal to religion itself. 
To put one's chips on the inversion internal to religion is 
by no means to call religion as such into question, but 
simply to make religion work religiously. Religion has never 
worked as well since finding functionaries in the ranks of 
the Communist parties who make it work much more 
effectively than the Christians themselves ever did. Chris- 
tians are too often the prisoners of a rigid conception that 
misses the reality of the speculary relation as constitutive 
of religion. The Council 62 has finally realized this: it is 
never too late. To declare that the Church must open itself 
up to the world is to acknowledge that if religion is to work 
well, its speculary relation must be put to work: the speculary 
relation faith/world, internal to religion. A machine that 
is not used gets rusty and seizes up. To open religion up 
to the world - as Vatican II has set out to do by, for 
example, proposing bold liturgical reform - is to put the 
speculary relation to work right down to the level of the 
rite itself. It was high time. It has to be admitted in this 
regard that certain Marxists have, thank God, got a head 
start over the Fathers of the Council, not only opening up 
a path for them, but opening their eyes as well. Their 
merits have certainly been duly noted by the competent 
authorities, that is to say, by Providence. There are bish- 
(d\ °^ S /H P ar tibus b3 - but there are saints in partibus too. 

out still more is involved. This effect of the speculary 

relation with reduplication [effet de relation speculaire d 

re doublemeni\ leads to a displacement, from the original centr- 

ln 8 to a centring that reduplicates the first. There results a 

Pecific, supplementary effect whose functioning we saw 

hen we discussed the ontological significance of the 

elation between subject and object, the centre and its 


horizon. This effect is now displaced on to th 
cated Subject, here God. The relation subject = k- ^^Plj. 
it is caught up in the reduplication of this de- ^'^ 
takes on a new form, becoming a relation of the ^^u^l 
subordinate of the first subject to the Second Sub * u k 
first subject becomes accountable to the Second Suiy ^ 
first subject is a subject subjected to the Second c?'^ 

who is Sovereign and Judge. The speculary r*i ^ 
becomes a relation of moral accountability, th i 
responsibility. On the other hand, the Second Su> 
serves the first as a guarantee. The couple submissi 

guarantee (a highly provisional formulation) thus reve 1 
itself to be basic to the structure of any ideology. 

If this last determination of the structure of the ideological is 
accurate, then it looks as if the internal inversion produced 
under the effect of the speculary relation fundamentally modifies 
the relationship between the initial terms: it is not the first subject, 
subject of the object, who is the true centre , but the second Subject who 
is the real centre. Indeed, the couple submission/ guarantee that I 
have just mentioned, and the reciprocal exchange that sustains 
it, begin to make sense when one sets out from this second 
Subject. This is, then, to say two things at once: that the speculary 
relation is asymmetrical and unequal, and that its true foundation is 
this speculary inequality. 

As 64 we can see from this last remark, what Feuerbach contrib- 
utes to our knowledge of the structure of ideology does not 
include the last of the consequences that we have drawn fro m 
him. This is because, first, Feuerbach effectively denies the func- 
tional validity of what he affirms: namely, the reduplication o 
the Subject. Second, it is because he is mistaken about wn 
constitutes the centre; he inverts, within the speculary re ^ ' 
the true domination, and quite simply ignores its basic effect- 
couple submission/guarantee. . Q 

Thus there is, in Feuerbach's very important contribute 
our knowledge of the structure of the ideological, a theotc 
threshold he is incapable of crossing, quite simply because 
takes religious ideology at face value; because, for him, &** ° 
is not an ideology, but merely the truth turned upside-d ^ 
For him, everything ultimately comes down to a questi 


. p^o senses of the word: signification and direction. 

^n^' in ' he sa ys that the whole of religion as such - as, that is, 

( j) vVhen ^ ^ ^ signification (let us bear in mind what was 

teti&° n y er about the anticipation of the Husserlian reduction 

^ ^rtneneutics)/ he says that there is nothing to be learned 

2<\d .. ion that does not come from religion. Thus he remains 

fr° m r j w jthin the self-consciousness of religion, without look- 

^bevond it for that of which it is the symptom, and which 

ing Js in it without it. (2) When he says that the whole 

stion of the demystification of religion as illusory form turns 

^ the reversal of sense that makes it an illusion, he is still talking 

' bout an internal theoretical vector, and does not get beyond the 

limits of religion. This has a familiar consequence: that the 

knowledge of religion keeps us inside religion, since it is merely 

religion turned upside-down. 

For us, things begin to look different as soon as we realize the 
necessity of certain structural effects about which Feuerbach says 
nothing, or which he denies the moment he mentions them: in 
particular, the effect of the reduplication of the subject, and the 
effect of domination/guarantee that follows from it. If we neglect 
this twofold effect, we too can put ideology to work in conform- 
ity with the pure schema of the speculary relation, but that is to 
follow ideology on to its own ground, and to consent to its 
characteristic illusion. If, on the other hand, we realize the 
unprecedented character, from the standpoint of the speculary 
relation, of reduplication and its effect of submission/guarantee, 
nen we can treat these effects as precisely what is mysterious in 
e seeming transparency of the speculary relation, and as 
symptoms of what is at work in the ideological. We then 
iscover, or can discover (this at any rate, is, the path I should 
so ■ 1 ta ^ ^ at w ^ at we have so far called effects of the 
theft* f 1 ^ relation / which can indeed be regarded as such within 
oft\ °^ * e structu re of the ideological, is not merely an effect 
and uciure > but the symptom of what commands its existence 
of t L er y na hire. We must therefore reverse the apparent order 
n °t tl s °^ ^ e structure, and say that the speculary relation is 

te e; n CaUSe °f ^ le e ff ec ^ s °f reduplication and of submission/guaran- 
abs en l e tfle c °ntrary, the speculary structure is the effect of a specific 
tfte $ y € which wakes itself felt, in the field of the ideological itself in 
* P om of the reduplication of the subject and the couple sub- 


mission/guarantee. This absence is an absence in propri 
the field of the ideological, but a presence in pron^ 50 ^^ 
outside it. This presence is that of the ideological fu ^ ets °no 
recognition-misrecognition, a function that has to do ^*° n of 
is misrecognized in the form of the speculary relation f ^f 
nition: that is, in the last instance, the complex structu fec °8 % 
social whole, and its class structure. °f the 

If I have developed this remark in passing, this is be 
is of the utmost importance today, because of the ente ^ 
inspired not only by the development of religious herirten /* 
or hermeneutics in general (ultimately, every hermeneuti ^ 
religious), but also by what is now generally called structural ^ 
or structuralist interpretation, which is ultimately indistinguiek 
able from hermeneutics (that is why L£vi-Strauss and Ricoeurcet 
along rather well). Take Sebag's essay, for example: 65 it shows 
what a 'structuralist' Marxist conception of ideologies can yield 
or, rather, fail to yield. But one can go back to L6vi-Strauss 
himself, who ultimately does not disavow what Sebag forth- 
rightly affirms. 

Let me explain what I am driving at. As we have just seen in 
discussing what is interesting in what Feuerbach shows us about 
the structure of the ideological, it is quite possible to make a 
structural analysis of an ideology work while remaining entirely 
within the elements of its structure - while, that is, remaining 
the prisoner of what the ideology says about itself, or even while 
going much further than what it says, by analysing what it does 
not say about what it says, its unsaid, its latent discourse, which 
will then be called its unconscious. One never gets beyond the 
structure of the ideological when one proceeds in this fashion, 
bringing the structure of the ideological into relation with other, 
isomorphic structures does not undermine this structure, but has 
the opposite effect, inasmuch as this generalized isomorphis 
merely reinforces, merely repeats, the structure of the ideology 
Indeed, there is every chance that it will put itself in the se*^ 1 
of the ideological structure, repeating it at the level of obp- 
and realities other than the ideological. 

This is what happens in Levi-Strauss's work, when he sn \, 
that the structures of language and of the exchange of g° J 
women and words repeat the structures of myths. The 
question is: who is repeating what? If we know that repetition 


f the ideological, we have every reason to suspect that 
*tf l,c * ure rphisni is itself an ideology of the relationship between 
$\\$ is0t ? Q f social reality - that is, a negation of their differences 
^ e te ve dominance of the structure of the ideological, which 
u nd er other functions (I am anticipating the results of work 

ha^' a s j precisely [that] of imposing differences under their 
in ? i that is, under non-difference. We come to the same con- 
i cnl(i . ' vV hen we observe, with Freud, that repetition can never 
C ' U?l vthing other than the symptom of something else, realized 
** netition by way of the denial of the repressed that surges 
111 n the symptom. Thus isomorphism is a repetition sympto- 
tic of the ideological nature of structuralism. Far from provid- 
e knowledge of the nature of the ideological, the repetition of 
. morphism j s mere iy the symptom of structuralism's ideologi- 
cal nature. 

This does not mean that structuralism has nothing new to 

teach us. It means that it comes to a standstill at a threshold, the 

one we have located in Feuerbach himself in discussing what he 

tells us about the functioning of the structure of religion. This 

threshold is that of the misrecognition of the repressed. Here, in the 

case of the ideological, it is the misrecognition of what operates 

in ideology in the speculary form of recognition: namely, the 

social or class function of the ideological structure itself. It is 

quite striking that we do not find a theory of the different instances 

of the complex social whole in L£vi-Strauss. This is obviously a 

result, in his case, of the ethnological ideological prejudice, the 

credo on which ethnology is founded; a few exceptions aside, it 

S M1 dominates all ethnology and weighs heavy on it. The articles 

faith of this credo are as follows: (1) a primitive society is not 

a society like the others; (2) the categories that are valid for 

°dern societies are not applicable to it, for it is an undifferen- 

ated society; (3) it is, fundamentally, an expressive society, each 

pan of which contains the whole - a society one can recognize 

lts total essence by analysing one or another of these total 

rts (religion, kinship relations, exchange, etc.), since they all 

e an isomorphic structure; (4) this [expressivity] stems from 

r , act that social relations are human relations (whence the 

nnographic] way of listening, the ethnographic [experience], 

ideology of 'fieldwork', of Einfiihlung, of ethnographic under- 

^g). The isomorphism of structures is the modern form of 


expressive causality. Structuralism is thus, in the last ins*, 
hermeneutics: the concept of structure is its theoretical fi \^' * 

We can plainly perceive symptoms of structuralism' **'" 
logical limits at several exemplary points in its conceptu ! 
tern: not only in the concept of isomorphism, but also * S ^ 
couple structure/unconscious. The concept of the unconscio • 
L£vi-Strauss is highly symptomatic of his ideological limits tu* 
unconscious is, for one thing, objective knowledge, unlit 
society's self-conception - but then why call it the unconsci * 
We do not talk about the chemical unconscious, or the uric 
scious of physics. Levi-Strauss talks about the unconscio 
precisely, for a reason that has to do with the philosophic I 
premisses of his enterprise: the unconscious is also what is said 
without being said, it is the unsaid which is not external to the 
said, but immanent in it; it is therefore the knowledge that can 
legitimately be derived from the unsaid of the said, the 
unthought of the thought. The unconscious is thus the affirma- 
tion (the existence of the concept of the unconscious in the 
couple structure/unconscious) that the knowledge of the ideological 
is immanent in ideology. That is the basic thesis of any hermeneu- 
tics. It is this thesis that enables structuralist analyses to function 
without ever stopping to ask about the differential nature of the 
object they analyse. The consequence is that these analyses are 
quite likely to remain trapped in the categories of the ideology 
they analyse - that is to say, in their illusions. 

We may find ourselves facing a similar temptation in our 
analysis of the structure of the ideological as given to us by 
Feuerbach. We can put it to work without stopping to inquire 
about the nature of the object it bears on. That is exactly how 
Feuerbach proceeds: that is why he merely gives us a penetrating 
but purely descriptive reproduction [redoublement] of the - 
rather of certain - categories of the structure of ideology* eV 
while he remains the prisoner of religious ideology. In the sa 
way, we too could yield to this temptation by pursuing 
analyses of the ideological, and bringing all its categorie 
light; that would not, however, give us knowledge of the 1 
logical. The risk is, precisely, that we will end up taking 
effects of the structure what is only a symptom of that wn ^ 
at work in it. The risk is that we will end up trapp e .^ 
hermeneutics which, while structuralist, remains a hermen 


what happens to those who think that they can find a 

Th» 5 lS u tics of meaning in Freud: when, as Ricoeur does, they 

h^ rlT1 a hermeneutics of meaning to an energetics of force in 

o?P°j f hp V miss the essence of Freud. 6 * 1 They treat the uncon- 
c r eiidf UIC " _.___ . L ._ ,, .___ ,, rJ _, 

^° u .j t h e latent discourse contained in the manifest discourse, 
* e ^tructural effects which the hermeneutics of the dream 


tent discourse of the manifest content. They do not see that 

^ as the meaning immanent in the meaning, the unsaid of 

I LI J' 



u ^tr 

nulates are merely symptoms of an effect of the uncon- 

m us which surges up in the field of these effects but is not 
• manent in them. 67 What they call biological energeticism is 
ite simply Freud's basic discovery: namely, that the uncon- 
clious is something other than the meaning-effects of the con- 
scious mind; it is the effects of another mechanism, irreducible 
to the field of any hermeneutics whatsoever; it is another dis- 
course. Recognizing this is merely the first, preliminary step 
towards recognizing what the unconscious is, but at least it 
indicates where we should not look for the cause of symptoms 
and where one should: outside the symptom itself. 6 ** There can 
be no Marxist theory of ideology in the absence of a radical 
break with all hermeneutics, existentialist or structuralist. 

Second very interesting theoretical effect: theory of the ideological 


This is an effect of the theory of the object; nothing leads us 
to expect it, it is even quite surprising: the theory of the ideologi- 
cal fact as the realization of desire - Freud's very words: Wunsch- 
ftfiillung. Here Feuerbach anticipates not only Freud, with his 
erminology, but first and foremost Nietzsche, by way of the 
conceptual context. 'Vwtsache ist jeder als erfiillt vorgestellte 
unsch.' ['A fact is every desire which passes for a reality/]" 
e uerbach develops this theory in The Essence of Christianity in 
^ection with the belief in miracles and the Eucharist. The 
eil Pous imagination 

s not distinguish between subjective and objective - it has no 
oth ^ ^ as k een endowed with the five senses, not so as to see 
real u 8 s than we do, but to see its own conceptions changed into 
rel ■ ein ^ s °utside of itself- What is in itself a mere theory is to the 

epous mind a practical belief, a matter of conscience - a fact. O 

Uer bach / SdmtUche Werke, vol. 7, p. 248; EC 205; translation modified. 


ye short-sighted religious philosophers of Germany, who flin 
heads the facts of the religious consciousness do you not ** ^ 
facts are just as relative, as various, as subject ive f as the representor ^ 
the different religions? Were not angels and demons hi t*^ °f 

persons?'** 0ric *l 

What is interesting here is that this theory of the ideological 
depends on the Feuerbachian theory of the object, whose si*-* 
consequence it is, and also on the Feuerbachian theory of relic' °* 
as an inversion of sense and alienation in the object - an exam T 
of one of the effects of the consistency and coherence of 
coherent component of Feuerbach's ideology. 

Indeed, if we assume the following two propositions: (1) the 
object is the essence of an objectified subject; (2) the essence of 
the alienated subject is an alienated object; that is, if we assume 
the possibility of a variation, and thus of an inversion of sense in 
the very essence of the subject, we end up with a theory of the 
perception of the imaginary object as fact - in other words, a 
theory of ideological hallucination that anticipates Freud and Nie- 
tzsche, and is also of interest to any future Marxist theory of 

This theory is of still greater interest to Marxism in that it 
represents a serious challenge to all empiricist interpretations of 
Marxist philosophy. If what is perceived by the senses can be an 
ideological fact, the 'criterion of practice' is dealt an indirect 
blow. Whence the idea that the criterion of practice does not 
suffice to ground the Marxist theory of knowledge. Everything 
Lenin says about 'werewolves' in Materialism and Empirio-criti- 
cism falls short of the mark. The most interesting thing in Lenin s 
work is that the man who holds no brief for the belief tfj 
werewolves is the same man who, at the level of practice, forged 
a theory of ideological facts in his theory of spontaneity. 

But what is much more interesting about the consequences 
this theory of ideological hallucination (let me remind y<> u 
passing that the origins of it are to be found in Spinoza's theo y 
of the image: the image is inherently hallucinatory - and ' 
Spinoza, the image is not, as in Taine, a state of consciousn ' 
but the imaginary - that is to say, the ideological as a s y sietT \Ltf 
level, a set, a system, or, we may say, a structured system) lS 

** EC 204-5; translation modified. 


bring the principle informing it to bear on those contem- 
v^ cafl -neologies which study facts with extremely elaborate 
rt0f aI 7 n tal apparatuses: for example, a number of human 
e %p eTl ^ t suC h as] psychosociology. The schema 'theory /verifica- 
?ci en t ^ e facts' is perfectly valid when it comes to ideological 
ti° n j sc ience y we do not have verification by the facts, that is, 
\p tacts of empirical consciousness, but a realization, in a 
W etico-technical montage, of theoretical facts .™ 

II. The Genus 
(Theory of the Species) 

Species and genus: terminological ambiguity, a headache for trans- 
lators. Should Gattung be translated 'species' or 'genus'? An 
Aristotelian reference, both logical and biological. 'Species' if we 
consider Feuerbach's transcendental biologism, but 'genus' if we 
consider his theory that the human species is the 'species of all 
the species' 'Human form cannot be regarded as limited and 
finite [it is] the genus of the manifold animal species; it no 
longer exists as species in man, but as genus', hh - or, as he says 
somewhere, as 'nature's self-consciousness' 

At all events, when Feuerbach talks about the essence of man, 
or about man, he means not the human individual, but the 
human species. The human essence is the essence of the human 
species. This is a crucial point, for Marx's break with Feuerbach 
w ul be played out around the theme of the human species. 

Jo talk about the human species is, by implication, to talk 

°ut individuals. The problem of the nature or the essence of 
species implies the problem of the nature of the human 

lv iaual, and of the relationship between the human individ- 
ual *nd the species. 

the °' ^ euer ^ ac h is contained in this definition: 'the essence of 

that ^ ec ' es * s ^ e absolute essence of the individual'," on condition 

e assign the word 'absolute' the pertinent meaning. Its 

1 F 

tnt U ![ bach ' Towa rds a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy', FB 93. 
Auction, FB 104; translation modified. 


pertinence is defined by the non-absolute, the relative - u 
words, the limited or bounded: the individual °^er 

The individual is the real being or individual subject 
absolute essence is the species, the essence of the spe C i °^ 
subject whose essential attribute is the essence of the hu ^ 
species. Practically speaking, this means that each humarr^ 
vidual carries within him the essence of man, even if only m l^ 
form of the misrecognition of the human essence. But he doe* 
within the limits of individuality. 

What does the concept of the limits or bounds of individual h, 
mean here? Two things: ^ 

1. Real, material limits. The limits of individuality as such 
which are the determinations of empirical existence in the here 
and now. For example, having one or another determinate body 
a long or a short nose (It is true that the spirit or the consciousness 
is "species existing as species", but, no matter how universal, the 
individual and his head - the organ of the spirit - are always 
designated by a definite kind of nose, whether pointed or snub, 
fine or gross, long or short, straight or bent')." For example, 
having a sex: male or female. For example, existing in such-and- 
such a historical period or century, and not another; hence 
existing in time, in a determinate time, not time in general. For 
example, existing in a certain place and not another. kk 

Individuality = existence = finitude of existence = material 
determination = passivity. The whole of Feuerbach's materialist 
empiricism is based on the category of the determinate finitude 
of existence, the primacy of existence. Thus these material, empiri- 
cal limits are not imaginary. They are real, and fundamental, 
they are the very limits imposed by existence. 

2. But also imaginary limits. They are imposed, this time, o 

the essence of the human individual, not his or her existence. 

f the 
itself, the essence of the human individual is the essence or 

human species, existing within the limits of determinate indi 

ual existence. The imaginary limits stem from confusing 

necessary limitations of existence with the non-limit of essence- 

imaginary limits are those born of the individual's illusory 

" Feuerbach, Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy', FB 57. 
kk See ibid., and Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. 


u own individual limitations (existence) constitute the 
tftf- l f t he species (essence): 

limitation of reason, or of the human essence in general, rests 

£ ve 'delusion, an error. To be sure, the human individual can, even 

° n t feel and know himself to be limited - and this is what 

**• ringuisnes him from the animal - but he can become conscious of 

limits, his finiteness, only because he can make the perfection 

1 d infinity of his species the object either of his feeling, conscience, 
3 thought. But if his own limitations appear to him as the limitations 

f the species, this can only be due to his delusion that he is identical 
with the species, a delusion intimately linked with the individual's 
love of ease, lethargy, vanity, and selfishness." 

The limits on individuality fall into two registers, real and 
jfitapnary. The paradox of Feuerbach is that, in the end, the only 
limits that constitute a real problem are not the real limits, those 
imposed by existence, but the imaginary limits. Those imposed, 
not by the nose and sex, but by the head. Not by the body and 
existence in the here and now, but by the imaginary confusion 
between individual and species. 

The most characteristic illusion: that of the existence of the 
species in an individual: incarnation, or the reality of absolute 

The incarnation of the species with all its plenitude into one individ- 
uality would be an absolute miracle, a violent suspension of all the 
laws and principles of reality; it would, indeed, be the end of the 
ivorld. Obviously, therefore, the belief of the Apostles and early 
Christians in the approaching end of the world was intimately linked 
Wltn their belief in incarnation. Time and space are actually already 
abolished with the manifestation of the divinity in a particular time 
an d form, and hence there is nothing more to expect but the actual 

nc * of the world. It is no longer possible to conceive of the possibility 
History; it no longer has a meaning and goal. Incarnation and 

s ory are absolutely incompatible; when deity itself enters into 
0r y' history ceases to exist. nun 

ind' • e W ^ at * s interesting in these texts: the identification of an 

r ev ! . a * w ith the species is the end of history. Here Feuerbach 

s a n idea that he has held in reserve. The problem of the 

^ Feu^ "' FB 103; translation modified. 

Ue n>ach, Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy', FB 57. 


individual's relations to the species is in fact the problem 
possibility of history. the 

And its inversion: the existence of the individual i 
species; also speculative philosophy, the destruction of the her 
now, of determination, its negation, and so on. Compare H^ 
and Neo-Pla tonic philosophy: the concept of the concrete-un'^ 
sal is precisely the existence of the individual in the species Hk 
is, the end of the individual, the end of all determination' 
therefore the end of all existence. The concept of the concret 
universal as Unding [non-sense]: 

Thought that 'seeks to encroach upon its other 1 - and the 'other 
thought' is being - is thought that oversteps its natural boundaries. ThL 
encroaching upon its other on the part of thought means that it 
claims for itself that which does not properly belong to thought but to bein? 
That which belongs to being is particularity and individuality, whereas 
that which belongs to thought is generality. Thought thus lays claim 
to particularity; it makes the negation of generality, that is, particular- 
ity, which is the essential form of sensuousness, into a moment of 
thought. In this way, 'abstract' thought or abstract concept, which has 

being outside itself, becomes a 'concrete' concept Thought negates 

everything, but only in order to posit everything in itself. It no longer 
has a boundary in anything that exists outside itself, but precisely 
thereby it itself steps out of its immanent and natural limits. In this way 
reason, the idea, becomes concrete; this means that what should flow 
from sense perception is made the property of thought and what is the 
function and concern of the senses, of sensibility and of life, becomes the 
function and concern of thought. This is how the concrete is turned 
into a predicate of thought, and being into a mere determination of 
thought; for the proposition 'the concept is concrete' is identical with the 
proposition 'being is a determination of thought.' What is imagination 
and fantasy with the neo-Platonists, Hegel has merely transformed 
into the concept, or in other words, rationalized."" 

If we consider the relation thus affirmed: (1) on the one hanfl/ 
existence and determination are associated with the individu / 


(2) on the other hand, his essence is associated with the S P^ ' 
what, then, is the theoretical status of the concept of species . 
we not relapse into nominalism? Are not the only existe 
individuals, and is it not then the case that the species is & e 

,m Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, FB 217-19; trans la 


c t attribute, a universal in the sense the word had in 
tf\ d° s jj eV al debate over universals? In other words, is the 
the ^ ^\e human essence or man not merely a name, flatus 
^^ Aes\¥P>*^ n & w ^ at ls common to the individuals of one and 
& ciS ' ^ e period, or, in general, all periods? 
tl^Jf. hypothesis is dangerous, for it paves the way for a 
ue of the human essence as a name, as an arbitrary, contin- 
Cfl + formulation, bound up with history and the politico-ideo- 
£ en ! i CO njuncture. It opens up the path that Marx goes down 

h n he says in The German Ideology that man is a myth that 
W rely reflects the nostalgic ideology of the petty bourgeoisie. In 
hat case, in the case of a nominalism, man or the essence of the 
human species is totally dependent on existing individuals, on 
their conditions of existence, and it becomes easy to denounce 
the idea of man or the essence of man as an artificial, inadequate 
notion that merely expresses the nostalgia or hope, etc., of certain 
individuals in a determinate period. 

Feuerbach is not a nominalist: 'The species is not a blojler 
Gedanke; it exists in feeling . . in the energy of love.' 00 No doubt 
he acknowledges that, for the individual, man or the human 
species is an ideal: 

The individual must be conscious of his limitation, and take man as 
such and the genus as his ideal. Our lives must be an ongoing 
realization of that ideal, an ongoing process of becoming-man. It is 
in the lower sense that everyone can say 'I am a man'; in a higher 
sense, however, one can only say, I must be, I want to be a man, but 
am not yet a man. 71 *™ 

. ot " er words, the interesting thing about Feuerbach is that he 

, not ev en momentarily tempted by a neutral nominalism. The 

. ^ a n essence is not merely the common remainder proper to all 

ividuals, the result of an inductive abstraction; for Feuerbach 

. describes it as an ideal. The human essence (species) is the 

r e Uman ' *^at towar ds which the individual tends, while 

gnizing or misrecognizing its superiority: the supra-human, 

at ^ the supra-individual. 

abstr acti ' ' [Where Althusser inserts blofier Gedanke, Eliot translates 'an 


r bach, 'The Concept of God as the Generic Essence of Man' 


But Feuerbach also affirms that the supra-individual i s 
being: re *l 

That there is something human in the supra-human is show 
example, by the fact that a man places another man above h' ' 
and proposes to take him as an ideal. Thus a real creature is thev?^ 
of a real creature. What is above me, above my individual n ^ 
nevertheless belongs to the field of the human, to the genre as ■**?' 
developed in other individuals.^ te 

How are we to conceive the reality of the human specieo 
How can the human essence be identified with an existenc "> 
How are we to conceive an existence which is not that of ari 
individuality, that is, an existence which is not that of a finite 
material determination, of a finitude, but an absolute, infinite 
existence? How can we identify an absolute, infinite essence with 
an existence that is necessarily, like any existence, relative and 

A disarming solution: the real existence of the human species 
is the whole set of men, the totality of individual existences. 
Totality = the existence of all human individuals. What does 'all' 
mean? The answer is simple: the existence of all the individuals 
who have ever existed or will exist, who have existed or will 
exist in the past and the future - in short, in all of human history. 
The existence of the human species - that is, of the absolute, 
infinite human essence - is human history in its totality: 

All divine attributes, all the attributes which make God God, are 
attributes of the species - attributes which in the individual are 
limited, but the limits of which are abolished in the essence of the 
species, and even in its existence, in so far as it has its comp^ 
existence only in all men taken together, in the past and the ru 
the future always unveils the fact that the alleged limits of 
species were only limits of individuals." 

But human history is not finished [nest pasfini;fini also me 
finite]; Feuerbach does not defend the thesis of the end ° fi ^ s !^ e 
Human history is, then, not finished [non fini], yet it is tn ^j 1 g 
[elle est infinie]. It does not yet exist in its entirety, but may ^ 
the less be anticipated as a totality, as an infinite totality- 

'i 1 ' Ibid. 

rr EC 152-3; translation modified. 


* it is not finished/finite [elle n'est pas finie] that it may be 
^%ed as ^ e * n fi n ity of the essence of the species; it is because 
reg af . finite/finished [elle nest pas finie] that it may be antici- 
it !> , 5 f/ w > absolute of the human essence. And yet this infinity 
p ate - n the present finitude (unfinished, and therefore finite, 
eSlS se limited, human history); this absolute exists in the 
^ . characteristic of the present [le relatif actuel], 
fe T or der to be able simultaneously to affirm the following two 
tradictory propositions: (1) Human history is the real exist- 
1 e of the infinite human essence; hence the infinite, unfinished 
haracter of human history is the existence of the infinite and the 
bsolute of the human essence, of the human species; (2) But this 
human history is not finished, the totality does not yet exist; in 
other [words], the infinite exists only in the form of the finite; it 
is necessary, in order to resolve this contradiction - that is to say, 
in order to speak of this as yet non-existent totality, and know 
the essence of this totality while eschewing all nominalism - it is 
necessary to assign this infinity a privileged locus of existence in the 
finite, in that which now exists, in the present. One must go even 
further, and say that, from the very beginnings of human history, 
since one cannot wait for it to end, the infinite of the species exists 
in the finite. It is necessary to have a theory of the present existence of 
the infinite, a contradictory concept. 

This theory, which is absolutely required by Feuerbach's 
premisses, is the theory of the intersubjectivity of the I and the 
Thou. The species exists in actu in the I-Thou relation. This 
relation must exist in finitude itself (in order to be founded 
here), in empirical existence itself, precisely at the level of the 
terminations of the materiality of existence. 
K is the theory of sexuality which founds the theory of inter- 
activity. Every individual is sexed: man/woman. The sexual 
of 1 ls *^ e em pirical-material existence of the infinite essence 
e s P^cies in empirical finitude: 'Where there is no thou f there 
Co a- - ^ e distinction between I and thou, the fundamental 
liv" n °^ a " personality, of all consciousness, is only real, 
6/ ardent, when felt as the distinction between man and 
T a L . 1 he thesis survives in Marx and the Marxist tradition, 
^arx in The German Ideologx/: the first degree of production 


P- 92. 


is the production of human beings (sexual production 
Engels (The Origi?is of the Family), who takes up the same'fk* 
again in connection with Morgan: ^is 

According to the materialist conception, the determining f a f 
history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduce ° F ^ 
immediate life. But this again is itself of a twofold character Ch? ° f 
one hand, the production of the means of subsistence, of f 
clothing, and shelter and the implements required for this; on u 
other, the production of human beings themselves/" ' e 

Take the great classical thesis, a Feuerbachian thesis, whi h 
occurs in Feuerbach and Marx's early works, and is still faintl 
echoed in Bebel (Die Frau und der Sozialismus): 7 ^ it is by th 
present state of man-woman relations - that is, by the degree of 
the alienation, servitude and exploitation of woman, and, accord- 
ingly, the degree of her emancipation - that one can judge the real 
state 72 of the human essence, of the alienation and disalienation 
of man. Woman's condition is the speculary mirror of the state 
of the human essence. It is from the state, alienated or not, of 
man-woman relations - hence from the condition, alienated or 
not, of woman, that one can judge the non-alienation or aliena- 
tion of man (that is, of the human essence or human society). 
This idea is based on the theoretical premiss that the essence of 
the human species and human society is wholly contained in the 
essence/existence identity of the man-woman relation. This is plainly 
not a Marxist, but a petty-bourgeois humanist anarchist thesis, 
and it wreaks theoretical, aesthetic, ideological and political 
havoc. Take Aragon: 'woman is the future of man' (a specific 
variation on the Ponge-Sartre humanist thesis: 'man is the future 
of man'). The emancipation of woman is neither the absolute 
condition nor even the symptom of the emancipation of man * 
Not that the problem of woman's condition is not a real, °^^ 
tively tragic problem; but this problem can obviously not 
settled by the effects of the equation: 'woman's condition - 
man's relations to woman = the current state of the ^^^ 
essence'. And woman's condition cannot serve as a spe c . e 
index of the condition of the human essence. One can de 

11 Friedrich Engels, Preface to the first edition of The Origins of tne 
Prwate Property, and the State, CW 26: 131-2. 


. a no strategy and no politics, from the equation that 

i rf£& s this - 

^ erbach's thesis that the infinity of the human essence exists 
tn in the finitude of intersexuality, the foundation of inter- 
lJl • rtivitV/ * s prolonged in a veritable ideological delirium. 
5U are its essential moments: 
1 The sexual relation is the recognition of the infinity of the 
ries in the forms of finitude, determination and materiality - 
short of all the attributes of empirical existence. It is the 
radigfli of all existence. In the other sex, man confronts, in 
bsolute fashion, existence as such in its original, raw state. 
Sexual love is the original and absolute experience of existence: 
f Dasein. This means recognition of the other-than-oneself as 
identical with existence, the other who exists outside me and is 
different from me. It is also the recognition of submission to 
existence: [Copernican] Inversion no. 2 of the primacy of the 
existence of the object over the subject. In love, I am not 
autonomous, not my own master, but am dependent on an 
external object, an object that is the true subject; I am its slave. 
This relation of existence, of determination by the other that 
exists outside me, this relation of heteronomy and submission to 
the existence of the empirical object external to me, this experi- 
ence of the not-I, hence of primordial passivity, is not a purely 
intellectual way of looking at things, a conception arrived at 
belatedly; it is, from the outset, a lived experience: the experience of 
passion-passivity , the experience of love. It is not first known, it is 
first experienced. The species is experienced before being known, 
rt is experienced from the beginning. Love is the originary 
ex perience of the radical origins of the species; love is the 
n ginary experience of the originary essence of the species. Love, 
pnmordially anchored in sexuality, is thus the recognition, expe- 
enced in the form of feeling, of the existence and infinite essence 
he species, existing in the form of sexual finitude. The 
otninance of religion over all other natural or cultural objects 
man and his world also arises from the fact that religion is 
gmtion [reconnaissance] in actu, which, throughout most of the 
Co Se . history, goes without cognition [connaissance], realizing all 
^6*H ion by preceding it; it is the recognition in actu of the infinite 
0^ 2Ce °f*he species, in the form of the relation to an Other, to the 
• ^°d. This relation is experienced in religion; it is an origi- 


nary existential relation, the originary relation that com • 
itself the undeveloped truth of all other relations. When ^ ^ 
course of its development, religion arrives, in Christianity *** ^ e 
definition 'God is love', it attains the statement of whaf^ 
Whence a profound, originary relation between religion and se * s ' 

- although, of course, Feuerbach's conception of sexualitv ft 
nothing to do with Freud's, with the relation that Freud • 
later establish between religion and sexuality. In Feuerb u 
sexuality is the originary existence of the human essence of i 
the attributes of the human essence; it is not an autonom 
component of this existence. Consequently, everything that Fei 
erbach deduces from what he indicates here remains - better ' 

- of no use whatsoever from a theoretical standpoint. Feuerbach 
was none the less, and this is yet another effect of the ruse of 
unreason - the first to establish a relation between sexuality and 

2. The sexual relation is the foundation and paradigm of every 
relation with the Other in general, that is, with an object different 
from the Subject. That is why this originary, intersubjective I- 
Thou relation is the condition of possibility for any relation with 
any object, taking 'object' here in every sense of the word, the 
external, natural object included: 

The first stone against which the pride of the individual, the ego 
stumbles is the thou, the alter ego. The ego first steels its glance in the 
eye of a thou before it endures the contemplation of a being which 
does not reflect its own image. My fellow-man is the bond between 
me and the world. I am, and I feel myself, dependent on the world, 
because I first feel myself dependent on other men. If I did not need 
man, I should not need the world. I reconcile myself with the world 
only through my fellow-man. "" 

3. But in order for this individual sexed other, this or tna 
particular man or woman, to establish the existence of the spe 01 
with the other partner in the sexual relation, this sexed other rn 
be more than an individual. For, as an empirical sexed being/ " e 
she is an individual (nose, sex, here and now). More p reCiS J^' 
the other must, even while being a determinate and t ^ ere ..^j 
limited individual, function as something other than a l^ 1 

,u EC 82. 


i He or she functions, says Feuerbach, as a 'represent- 
x4ivid ua • ' 

V of the species 

* n me and the other there is an essential, qualitative distinction 

B^ • f or me the representative of the species, even though he is 

for he supplies to me the want of many others, has for me 

° n ' * ^er'sal significance, is the deputy of mankind, in whose name 

a eaks to me, an isolated individual, so that, even if united only 

.u Lnp I would have a social, a human life. vv 
w'ltn one, i 

t this to say that he is the representative of the species in the 

that he is the representative of the totality of human 

,. . r y. i n other words, that he has the privilege - which 

evitably leads, as we have seen, to the end of history - of being 
the species incarnate? Feuerbach cannot affirm this, although he 
comes close to putting it that way in many passages. In reality, 
the other, a finite individual, functions as the representative of 
the infinity of the species in the intersubjective relationship of 
sexuality and, more profoundly, of love. Thus it is this relation- 
ship, if we want to be rigorous in Feuerbach's stead, which itself 
functions as the infinite existence of the human essence. It is this 
relationship which is the existence in actu of the human species. 
Intersubjectivity is thus the foundation of every relation of 
human individuals to every object of the human species: theoret- 
ical objects (sciences) and practical objects (action). The Feuerba- 
chian Cogito is a 'we' But it is, as in Husserl - Feuerbach's 
terminology notwithstanding - a concrete, intersubjective Cogito, 
a theoretical and practical Cogito, and a historical Cogito. We 
are (see Thao) transcendental egos (and equals) 73 to the extent 
. We are equals in the originary exchange of constituent 
^tersubjectivity. 74 

If the essence of the human species exists in this sexual 

^subjectivity of the experience of love, this is because the 
th If 6 °^ ^ le ^ uman species clearly exists in love. The liberation of 
r .. Unia n species from the limitations of its alienation is the 
non ? n °^ irrtersubjectivity in actu, its universal realization in 
hum natec * ^ orm * Th* s means that the essence internal to all 
e Sse n stations is love, that the essence of hate is love; that the 
e of social conflicts and wars is love. Men, as Christ said, 

Ibicj n 1 Co 

*' P- a 58, translation modified. 


know not what they do: in reality, they love one anork 
think they hate one another; that is why they fight, ip^ *M 
know what they do, let them know what they are, and th ^ 
love one another, thus realizing their human essence, the ^ 
of the human genus. Love is thus the essence of hate; lov • ** c * 
essence of egoism. Men's political, economic and ideol < 
conflicts are the quarrels of lovers who know not that thev 1 
Let them realize it, let their eyes be opened, let the scale* ^ 
from their eyes, let the veils fall and their truth be unveiled 1 
them know the truth, and love will be realized, will been ** 
reality. e 

To love is to be a communist: 

Feuerbach is neither a materialist, nor an idealist, nor an identitv 
philosopher. So what is he? He is in thought what he is in his actions 
in spirit what he is in flesh, in essence what he is according to the 
senses - Man; or rather he is more, for Feuerbach only treats the 
essence of man in society - he is a social man, a communist. ww 

Feuerbach is a communist Feuerbach's communism is thus 
the communism of love, that is, the communism of the Christian 
religion 'taken at its word' Examining this last conclusion, we 
see that what held earlier for the relationship between the first 
subject and the Second Subject in the speculary relation holds 
here as well. To understand the sense [sens] of that relationship, 
we have to reverse its direction [sens], Feuerbach's deep reason 
- that is, the idea that he holds in reserve - is not what he 
presents as the foundation of his theory, namely, intersubjectiv- 
ity, particularly sexual intersubjectivity - the true 'foundation oi 
his thought is wlxat he presents as its consequence: his ideal oi a 
communism of love and his conception of the revolution a* 

1 £> 

disclosure, as 'the open confession of the secrets of his love 
The revolution as confession (with the result that the sole me 
of political action is demystification; that is, disclosure, tha ' 
books and articles in the press) - that is what he has in mind- 
the question of the revolution, objectively posed by the 
conflicts of his day, he answers with a theory of the comm um j 
of love, a theory of the revolutionary action of disclosure 

A US CW*' 

Feuerbach, 'The Essence of Christianity in Relation to The Ego a™ 1 . 
trans. Frederick M Gordon, The Philosophical Forum, 7, nos 2-4 (1977), p- 


. of course, in order to re-establish the true direction/ 
cod eSS , j^ s deductions, to re-establish this real order in the 
^^ A order of his ideas, we have to take up a position outside 
iei$P e , Q f ^s ideas and the structural relation governing its 
the fi eia 

e ' eIT Vnal consequence: the conception of history. History is necess- 
, x several reasons. But, at the same time, the content of 
a — rv in Feuerbach constitutes the resolution of the aporias of 
onception of the relations individual /species. 
History is, first of all, the resolution of the non-correspondence 
een individual and species, finite and infinite, relative and 
bsolute, and so on. The existence of the human essence in its 
totality is the sum of individual existences in the totality of space 
and time, that is, in history. Thus the concept of history has no 
content other than that assigned it by the theoretical function 
which gives rise to it: to make up the total, to he the total - in other 
worus, to fill in the gap between individual and species, or 
overcome the limitations of empirical individuality. History 
lodges itself, very precisely, between the individual and the 
species, in order to fill the vacuum separating them and trans- 
form the species from an abstract, nominalist concept into a 
reality: it is therefore nothing but the concept of this vacuum. 
The proof is that all the concepts which can be derived from it 
are vacuous. There is absolutely no theory of history in Feuerbach. 

The fact that there is no theory of history in Feuerbach does not 
wean that the concept of history he mobilizes plays no theoreti- 
cal role. On the contrary! It does nothing else. This explains its 
second role: to serve as a solution to the problem of alienation 
, the overcoming of alienation. History is accordingly the 
^us of existence of the events alienation /disalienation. But to 
y that it is their locus of existence is simultaneously to say that 
0r y is an empty place in which these phenomena exist. Yet it 
and ^- t0 ^ e some thing more: it is the possibility of alienation 
nah lSa ^ enation as the possibility of different states of human 
na . e "~ thus there is a Hindu human nature, a Jewish human 
h Um ' anc * so forth, and one day there will be a fully realized 
ar e n . na t Ure But since these different forms of human nature 
o n y llsi orical events except in so far as they are so many variations 
Well lena ^on and disalienation of the human essence, we might as 
/ that calling them historical adds nothing to them - 


except precisely, the category of existence. History i s 
ingly the empty locus of the existence of the variation aCC ° r ^ 
human essence. the 

Yet there is a privileged locus in history: the period in 
the human essence will be realized and the originary e ^ 
will exist in the very form of authenticity. The whole the Ce 
history as the locus of existence of the possible variations f °* 
human essence is thus deduced from one particular form 
existence, that of Absolute Knowledge, of the realization of H? 
human essence - that is, the existence in which essence will \1 
identical with existence. That is the negation of all history. 77, 
in Feuerbach, history exists only where history can no longer exist 
when its end realizes its origins. The identity of origins and end' 
an identity which is to come, is thus the negation of history. The 
concept negates itself in fulfilling its function. However, this 
particular period of history exhibits a special feature: it plays its 
privileged role in so far as this history, unlike past histories, 
does not exist and has never existed, or maintains an existence 
only in 'people's heads', in hope. I am a materialist in the 
sciences, says Feuerbach, but an idealist in history, a distinction 
that Marx and Engels adopted word for word - obviously a 
suspect borrowing {The German Ideology and Engels's Ludwig 
Feuerbach). 7h The concept of history thus reveals itself for what it 
is: the contradiction between existence and non-existence, or, 
more precisely, a type of existence required by its non-existence, 
by its existence in the form of hope, as a wish. History is the concept 
of the realization of a desire, or, rather, the phantasmagonc 
concept of the realization of a fantasy, the reduplication of a 
fantasy. If reduplication is typical of the structure of the ideo- 
logical, then we are dealing, in the proper sense, with an 
ideology of history." 



1 Un mauvais sujet also means something like J a bad apple' Altn , 
makes the same play on words elsewhere; for example, LP 181- i l -^ 

2. The highest national competitive teachers' examination in France* 
of Althusser's duties at the Ecole normale sup£rieure was to 
prepare students for this examination. [Trans.] 


n hianifestes philosophiques: Textes choisis (1839-1845), ed. and 

3- &* Althusser, Paris, 1960. 
trans- rten no ^e in the margin of Document 2: 'effects of philosophical 

4 H ^ different from mere deletions' 

re trea om j c an d Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Milli- 

5 Maf and Dirk J. Struik, CW 3: 333. 

S an o0 ^ n t is taken up in the third part of the course on Feuerbach, not 
6. i™ K f which has been written out to warrant publication here. See 

the Editors' Introduction above. 

u e Althusser intended to quote an unspecified passage from Engels's 
^ t dtvix Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. 

K rl Lowith, From Hegel to Nietzsche, trans. David E. Green, New York, 


See in particular Paul Ricceur, Freud and Interpretation, trans. Denis 

Savage, New Haven, CT, 1970, pp. 529-30: 'The same may be said of 
Feuerbach: the movement by which man empties himself into transcen- 
dence is secondary as compared to the movement by which he grasps 
hold of the Wholly Other in order to objectify it and make use of it; the 
reason man projects himself into the Wholly Other is to grasp hold of it 
?nd thus fill the emptiness of his unawareness.' 

10. Here Althusser reverses the order of second and third parts of his 
course, not included in the present volume (see the Editors' Introduction 
to 'On Feuerbach'). 

11. Perhaps an error for 'humanism, naturalism, and sensuousness'. In 'The 
Humanist Controversy', Althusser talks about Feuerbach's impossible 
combination of Man, Nature, and Sinnlichkeit. [Trans.] 

12. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'Wesen (chez Hegel 
Wesen ist was gewesen ist)/ 

13. Althusser had planned to call the first chapter of an early text on 
Feuerbach 'Why Elephants Have No Religion' (see the Editors' Introduc- 
tion above), 

14 - Document 1: 'we can say' 

j5- See Althusser, 'Letter to Jean Lacroix', SH 207-8. 

Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'it goes down the same 

Path the other way.' 
• Handwritten note in the margin of Document 1: 'not truth of, but 

18 H mission ' c °nfession'. 

19 !1 andwritte ^ note in the margin of Document 2: 'to un-veiT. 
Handwritten note ^ the margin of 00^1^,^ 2: 'Cf. Ruge/cf. book 

2a H^H /C0UfeSSi0n ' 

anawntten note in the margin of Document 2: 'the Eigentum of 

2i. ^& [ Vbeisich of F[euerbach]' 

so far as' [en tant que] is a handwritten correction replacing 'as' 

22. fa"] j" Document 2. 

23. -|x Written note in the margin of Document 2: 'monopoly' 

24. '"rw e f ^ adverbs are handwritten addenda to Document 2. 
*5. 'r\r of is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. 


'Or is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. 


26. 'Distinct from external life' is a handwritten addendum to Doou 
27 S'appelle d'un nom specifique, which literally means 'calls it^)^^ 
specific name' [Trans.] by a 

28. Althusser translates 'consciousness /knowledge' in the second p a 

ical phrase (which is not a parenthetical phrase in Feuerbach) uTu^ 
words conscience /science (Bewufitsein /Wissen in the original Germ ^ 

29. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'an absolute n 1 
without an outside'. e * 

30. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 1: 'A knowledge [&» 
existing in the form of an object, gestures, etc.' 0lr l 

31. See Note 28 above. 

32. Here we have followed the wording of Document 2. Document 1 re h 
'but this word, consciousness, does not designate transparency, it merp i ' 
designates the speculary reflection, the specularity of the existence of fa 
generic essence of man in man's objects, in the human world'. 

33. 'And practical' is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. 

34. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: "Theory /practice' 

35. 'And a finitude in the Kantian sense' is a handwritten addendum to 
Document 2. 

36. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 1: 'this is why the moon'. 

37. 'What would be [qui serait]' is a handwritten addendum to Document 2; 
the phrase originally read 'in the form of a noumenal object'. 

38. The text indicates mat Althusser wished to insert quotations here. He 
may have had the following passage in mind: 

Is it at all possible for the feeling man to resist feeling, for the loving man 
to resist love, for the rational man to resist reason? Who has not 
experienced the irresistible power of musical sounds? And what else is 
this power if not the power of feeling? Music is the language of feeling - 
a musical note is sonorous feeling or feeling communicating itself. Who 
has not experienced the power of love, or at least heard of it? Which is 
the stronger - love or the individual man? Does man possess love, or is 
it rather love that possesses man? (Introduction, FB 99-100) 

39. Here we have followed the text of Document 2. Document 1 has 
'immediately visible on condition that it is disclosed', and is etncndea 
to read: 'opaque by accident, but transparent on condition that it 

40. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'Why the privileg 
religion?' * 

41. Here we follow the text of Document 2, which has been render 
uncertain by the fact that one correction has been written over anotn 
Document 1 reads simply: 'that reason and liberty can exist in cuitui 

42. 'Certain effects' is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. ^ 

43. Handwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'the same goes 10 
anteriority] of self -consciousness to consciousness an" 

e oi 


make this more precise' is a handwritten addendum to Docu- 






|4- . * 2 

111 j ritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'origin forgotten' 

\S- H^^ rritten note in the margin of Document 2: '[genetico-critical?]' 
•tf ^^ j written note in the margin of Document 2: 'the subsequent cover- 

*>■ Ha up ' 

iflS K lation =' is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. 

a,* "Theses on Feuerbach"' is a handwritten addendum to Docu- 

' For tne 

!rvi word' is a handwritten addendum to Document 2. 

dwritten note in the margin of Document 2: 'primacy of the 


'One can see' is written in over the phrase 'we shall see' in Document 2, 

but we shall see' is not struck. 

5ee Note 52. 

See especially the first sentence of Marx's 'Contribution to the Critique 

of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: Introduction', trans, anon., CW 3: 175: 

Tor Germany the criticism of religion is in the main complete, and 

criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism.' 

55. $e* Marx, 'Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law', 
trans. Martin Milligan and Barbara Ruhemann, CW 3: 31. 

56. Marx, Letter of September 1843 to Arnold Ruge, trans. Clemens Dutt, 
CW 3: 145. See 'The Humanist Controversy', Note 36. 

57. 'One can put this' is written in over 'we will put this . ' in Document 
2. This is the last handwritten modification to Document 2. 

58. Marginal note: 'blarney [p. q.] here on what Feuerbach calls his genetico- 
critical method' 

59. See especially Lucien Goldmann, Vie Human Sciences and Philosophy, 
trans. Hayden V. White and Robert Anchor, London, 1969 (1952), 
Chapter 2, A: 'The Problem of Ideologies' Althusser's library contained 
a heavily annotated copy of this book, 

w - From this point on, most of the quotations, a few very brief passages 
aside, are not directly incorporated in the text typed by Althusser; one 
hnds only the page numbers of the passages mentioned or references to 
his notecards. We have included these quotations in the text, at the risk 

61 A f i^ dudingtoornucnortoolittle - 

^Ithusser is referring to the 'dialogue' between Communists and Chris- 

ar ^s, the theoretical justification for which was provided by Roger 

araudy, a member of the Political Bureau of the French Communist 

tr ^ anc * *h e director of its Centre a" 'etudes et de recherches marxistes 

62 £ £RM > 

J^ reference is to the Second Vatican Council (11 October 1962-8 

63. A^7 ber 1965 >' 

ow Fe W ^° b ears me nt le of bishop but has no real jurisdiction of his 
/ f m ce he is responsible for a purely nominal diocese in a non- 
64, n stian country. 

65. ^^rttten annotation in the margin: 'Watch out!' 
en Sebag, Marxisme et structuralisme, Paris, 1964. 


66. Ricceur, Freud and Interpretation, op. cit, Book 2, Part 1: 'g ne 
Hermeneutics' &etics ^. 

67. Handwritten note in the margin: 'They do not see that ther 
different discourses, cf. the Freudian theory of the double inscri *** ^o 

68. At the end of this sentence, at the bottom of the page J? ° n - 
handwritten note: 'Lacan's str[ucturalism] is not herrneneuti' c ' *** ^ a 

69. At the end of this sentence, there is a typed note: 'see the theo 
corresponding organ in Feuerbach (card)' This notecard has n °* *^ e 
found. notb *n 

70. Althusser cites his own unpublished translation of this essay, pre***, 
in his archives. ^^etf 

71. August Bebel, Woman in the Past, Present, and Future, trans. HB Ad 
Walther, New York, 1976. ' <Ums 

72. Althusser' s text reads 'the real relation'. [Trans.] 

73. The two words [egos, egaux] are homonyms in French. See 'RTJL ' \y? 

74. Trim Ehic Thao, Phmomenology and Dialectical Materialism, ed. Robert S 
Cohen, trans. Daniel J, Herman and Donald V Morano, Boston, MA 
1986 (1951). Althusser's library contained a heavily annotated copy f 
this book. 

75. 'Religion is the solemn unveiling of man's hidden treasures, the avowal 
of his innermost thoughts, the open confession of the secrets of his love.' 
'Introduction', FB 109-10. 

76. See Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, trans. Clemens Dutt et a/., 
CW 5: 41: 'As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with 
history, and as far as he considers history, he is not a materialist.' See 
also Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German 
Philosophy, trans, anon., CW 26: 372: 

It was therefore a question of bringing the science of society, that is, the 
sum total of the so-called historical and philosophical sciences, into 
harmony with the materialist foundation, and of reconstructing it there- 
upon. But it did not fall to Feuerbach's lot to do this. In spite of the 
'foundation', he remained here bound by the traditional idealist fetters, a 
fact which he recognizes in these words: 'Backwards I agree with tn 
materialists, but not forwards.' 

77 For the reasons indicated in the Editors' Introduction, we have n 
published the rest of Althusser's course, most of which he left in 
form of notes. 

The Historical Task of 
Marxist Philosophy 


In April 1967, as the course from which 'On Feuerbach' is culled was 
vetting under way, Althusser unexpectedly received a letter from Mark 
Borisjvich Mitin, a pillar of the Soviet philosophical establishment. 
Mitin had launched his career with his contribution to a June 1930 
Pravda article unmasking Trotskyite sabotage of the materialist dialec- 
tic, gone on to play a key role, as 'Stalin's philosopher', in the 1948 
triumph ofLysenkoism, and only recently, under Brezhnev, been named 
general editor of Voprosy filosofi [Questions of philosophy], the 
Soviet philosophical journal in the postwar era. He wrote to Althusser 
on behalf of the journal to solicit an essay for a special issue commem- 
orating the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution. Althusser 
wght submit a piece on 'developments in dialectical materialism' or 
16 impact of the Russian Revolution on French philosophy' The 
review would be equally happy', Mitin added r in what bore all the 
ni arks of a polite afterthought, to receive a 'summary' of Althusser' s 
recent research' The deadline was 1 July, 
Althusser harboured few illusions about the 'old fox' Mitin, to quote 
e ter of 23 April to his lover Franca Madonia. He harboured even 
- about the CPSU, whose right-wing revision of Marxist theory he 
totj r as ** le dominant factor in Soviet society's accelerating slide 
stud ca P l l a Hsm: the Russian 'fish', he wrote to his friend and former 
j t fj! lt Michel Verret on 1 March, was 'rotting from the head down 
to/j We d that the main task of Marxist philosophy was to promote, in 
a ut an Un signed article that Althusser had written the previous 
revoi n ei jphemistically calls 'Yugoslavia', a revitalizing 'ideological 
l °n like the one on the march in China. 1 It also followed that 


arriving at the 'correct conception of Marxist theory 



of the philosophers - constituted the task on which "the f°^ Qti ^ 
socialist revolution now hinged (p. 167 below). It did not* if? ^** 
means follow that the ideological state apparatus sustainin * n y 
Soviet Marxism-Leninism - the rotting head of the Russian fi*^ ' 
which M.B. Mitin was a fairly representative incarnation - xvo u ^ 
Marxist philosophy to accomplish its historical task. ^P 

Yet Althusser reacted to Mitin s letter as if he thought it • 
doubtless because even the dimmest prospect of addressing a c . 
audience thrust all other considerations into the shadows. Workiri 
the furious pace at which he usually turned out first drafts, heprodu a 
a 12,000-word 'summary of his recent research' in about two week 
writing with an eye to 'getting by' the censors in Moscow, as he said 
in a May Day letter to Madonia, and, on the evidence of an undated 
letter to ttienne Balibar, 'sweating blood' in the process. He kept his 
other eye on the censors at home: if he enjoined the Itandful of associates 
to whom he sent his paper in April to maintain a 'total blackout' on 
Mitin's commission, it was not just out of a foible for the thrills of the 
clandestine, but also because he shared Verret's apprehensions 
(expressed in a letter of 2 May) that his enemies in 'the Party here' 
- beginning with the now beleaguered but still redoubtable Roger 
Garaudy - 'might succeed in stymieing publication there' Thus 
Althusser most probably did not show his draft to anyone in the PCF 
leadership, although, as the letter that had prompted Verret's warning 
indicates, he did briefly contemplate clearing it with General Secretary 
Waldeck Rochet. 

Althusser began revising his essay in late April. Since receiving 
Mitin's commission, he had been torn between providing an accession 
summary of his work tailored to a Soviet audience and taking afr^ 
approach to questions he had been debating with himself since 
appearance of For Marx and Reading Capital, notably in a profit 
book on tlie union of theory and practice that liad been expat l * tn %' 
his own surprise, for the past year. In the event, he began by sum 
riling and ended by innovating. By the middle of May, ideas on 
relation between philosophy and politics with which he had 
grappling in the (never finished) book crystallized in a dense ten-y 
conclusion appended to the revised essay. They make 'The Hw ^ 
Task 7 , its pedagogical style notwithstanding, one of the pivotal te 
the Althusserian corpus. Tor 'Philosophy and Polities' \ as A" n 


rw conclusion, laid the groundwork for the thesis tlmt 

0ed h tS filing he went on to produce, beginning with the critique 

'nfbrf^ '^ ticisrn that had informed even/thing he liad produced so 

jtW j f} ia t philosophy is not a Theory of theories which surveys 

fir: it at $ j ^ ons of all other discursive and non-discursive practices 

the irtterr : tion above the fray f but a political practice representing, as 

^ a ^ would put it in a November interview, 'the people's class 
Alth^ sser , 

** in t heor y ' 
$rug& t j ie enc i Q j May, Althusser submitted the revised and 

ded version of his essay to a wider group of colleagues than he 
C% ^\he first draft, then had it put into Russian, so th it - as he had 
^ ttert to tticnne Balibar on 17 April - the Soviets would not use the 
1 f that they had to translate the text as a pretext for tampering with 
t A week before the 1 July deadline, he wrote to 'Comrade Mitin' to 
sw tliat the piece, which had ballooned to some forty-five single-spaced 
typed pages, would soon be expedited to Moscow, He added that he was 
also planning to publish it in France. 

Vie rest was silence. In March 1968, long after the fiftieth anniver- 
sary of the Revolution and the commemorative issue of Voprosy 
filosofi had come and gone, Althusser wrote to Mitin again to ask 
wftat had become of his manuscript, pointedly noting that he still 
intended to release part or all of it at home, that he could not decently 
delay French publication much longer, and that the resulting situation 
was 'delicate' for the Soviets as well. Unabashed, Mitin replied, after 
apologizing for his 'inexcusable' eight-months' silence, that Althusser' s 
text was 'too long' (it was, in fact, double the length Voprosy filosofi 
usually allowedp and that the Russian translation was 'less than 
n mnt f He went on to say that, in a rare departure from 'usual 
tce ' he had had the piece partially rewritten, retranslated, and 
r i °f the conclusion, which was 'absolutely independent' of the 
feu resu lt of this operation, 'a success', would be published in a 

l° nt hs, once Mitin had Althusser' s formal approval of the changes. 
^ v lu$se r's archives contain no trace of his response, which he may 
hoty gWen Mitin orally during his April 1969 visit to Paris. They do, 
SoJ^\ contain a C0 Py °f a 26 August 1968 letter to the dissenting 
he y Philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, in which, after noting that 
rec entl 66n ^ los Vti a lized for a depression early in May, and again only 
Hi si0T f he reports that Mitin has sent him a 'remake' of 'The 
doi n a Task', waxes indignant over the presumption involved in 
rewrite', unbidden, of someone else's text, and complains that, 


stripped of its conclusion, his 'philosophical and political' es 
unduly 'academic' This suggests that he refused to authori-Jl a ^**r$ 
Hon of the censored version of the piece. However, since tfa> f^'^ 
Mamardashvili indicates that he was still weighing the pro$ 6tter to 
of bowing to Mitin, it is also possible that he did ultimately ^ 
the expurgated version, only to see it, too, rejected on some nein ^ rot * 
In any event, 'The Historical Task' never made its way into ex *- 
the USSR. pnnt »» 

WJtat might be called the non-publication history of the Frcn u 
is more quickly related. In 1967, Althusser revived plans to fo *** 
theoretical journal that he had mentioned as early as 1963 in a lett * 
Pierre Macherey. As conceived in mid-1967, the first issue o/Th£o ' ° 
now slated for release by Franqois Masperos independent left-wi 
publishing firm on the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution 
was to include some form of the essay that Althusser had submitted to 
Mitin, which - as Alain Badiou envisaged matters in a 24 June letter 
to Althusser - would serve as the new journals 'real manifesto' 
Meanwhile, Althusser had also decided to issue 'The Historical Task' 
as a book in a new, more broadly accessible sub-series of the series (also 
called 'Thiorie') that Maspero fiad been publishing under his editorship 
since autumn 1965. Plans for this book almost reached fruition: 
Althusser f s archives contain a full set of the page proofs. Yet it never 
materialized, any more than the review or the new sub-series in which 
it was supposed to appear. Perhaps because the new definition of 
philosophy proposed in 'The Historical Task' had been radically over- 
hauled by autumn 1967, Althusser refused to pass the text for press. 

He did not, however, suppress it outright, for an authorized Hun- 
garian version, including neither sections I and II nor the concluding 
section on philosophy and politics, appeared in a collection of w 
writings released in Budapest in 1968. It is perhaps worth noting 
this partial translation of 'The Historical Task r was the work of *> 
Gero, who, after playing second fiddle for nearly a decade to ^ urx ^j 
'Little Stalin MdtyHs Mkosi, distinguished himself during hisb ^ t 
tenure as First Secretary of the Hungarian Party by begging the? . 
leadership to order the 1956 invasion of his country. Fallen up ^ 
days after a long exile in the Soviet Union, Gero spent his las* V e 
his homeland scraping a living as a freelance translator. p\i\W 

Many different versions of 'The Historical Task of Marxist * 
ophy' have been preserved in Althusser's files, from the p rS g 
through the liandwritten Russian version sent to Moscow to t 


/ p projected French monograph. The present translation is 
ir ocfe °* .1 , proofs, which were set from a typescript dated 18 May 
\&d ° n - me P°i nt before they were produced, Althusser intercalated 
j#>7. ^ * Tt , in the typescript and added a long note; unlike the 
iX J0# ^ j woofs, the typescript also bears many addenda and correc- 
ufl*. '/,/ 5 hand. The typesetter's errors have been corrected after 
tiffli* l} f jij t this emended and expanded second draft. Such differ- 
c °^ l °h tiveen the typescript and the proofs as show up in English 
rf Ll> . ■ n } iave been flagged in the notes, minor modifications aside. 

GM. Goshgarian 

Todav in 1967, Communists the world over are celebrating both 
. fiftieth anniversary of the first socialist revolution and the 
one hundredth anniversary of the first volume ot Capital: that is, 
in the full sense of these words, both the greatest political 
revolu'>on and the greatest theoretical revolution of modern times, 
two revolutions that have changed the course of History. 

On the occasion of this double anniversary, I would like to 
offer a few thoughts on the current situation, problems, and 
tasks of Marxist theory. 

I. Towards a correct union of 


mention these two anniversaries in the same breath is to 
avv Mention to something of crucial importance: Marx's theo- 
• , c Evolution is one hundred years old; the Soviet revolution 
^ ty years old. Thus the revolution that Marx carried out in 
Ru m °^ ^ eor y preceded, by fifty years, the revolution in 
a nd *u Socie ty carried out by the popular masses under Lenin's 
n ot L. B olshevik Party's leadership. For Marxists, there is 
oc Cu ^ "mysterious about the fact that the second revolution 
Len^ so ' 0n 8 a ^ r the first. The works of Marx, Engels and 
s h°ulH k^ ^ e P^cipte th at allcws us to understand why this 
^ 0v e So - It has to do with the nature of the workers' 
Unio n * nt ' ^ e na ture of Marxist theory, and the nature of the 
the workers' movement with Marxist theory. 


1. 'Without revolutionary theory/ says Lenin in What 
Done? , 'there can be no revolutionary movement/ S ^° 8? 

We need to pay very close attention to the wording 
famous dictum. Lenin does not say that 'without revoln« ^ 
theory, there can be no workers' movement' For Marxist tk*^ 
did not create the workers' movement. The workers' n\ov 0l ^ 
existed before Marxist theory, which would not have k** 
possible without it ^ 

On the other hand, the workers' movement did not pmH 
Marxist theory by its own devices. Marxist theory is the prod ^ 
of a conjunction of theoretical elements (German philoscmli^ 
English political economy, French socialism) and political eve k 
(the class struggle, the first interventions of the workers' move, 
ment, etc.) in the ascendant phase of Western capitalism. 

Lenin by no means affirms that Marxist theory is essential to 
the workers' movement; he says it is essential to the revolutionary 
workers' movement. He thereby indicates that, without Marxist 
theory, the workers' movement would have emerged and devel- 
oped, but would not have become revolutionary in the objective 
sense of that term - that is, capable not merely of wishing or 
hoping for, but of making the socialist revolution. 

This first thesis of Lenin's refers us to a second, well-known 
Leninist thesis on the objective limitations on the development 
of a workers' movement 'left to its own devices' These limi- 
tations are the limitations of Utopian socialism, anarchism and 
anarcho-syndicalism: in sum, of 'trade-unionism' and Social- 
Democratic reformism. They are the limitations of the 'spon- 
taneous' ideology of the workers' movement. When Lenin caUS 
this ideology 'spontaneous', he means that it is in fact dominat 
by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. 

2. Only Marxist theory enables the workers' movenrien fh j 5 
transform itself and become objectively revolutionary, *° r ^^ 
theory alone enables it to rid itself of the theoretical and p* a 
effects of 'spontaneous' anarchist-reformist ideology. ^ on 

Why is Marxist theory capable of ensuring this transform 
and this emancipation? Because it is not one 'ideology a ^ 
others, that is, a distorted \fausse] and therefore subjective r 
sentation of the history of societies, but a scientific and tne 
objective conception of it. 


T tfE HI* 1 

the workers' movement can become objectively revol- 
^ US on the twofold condition that it (a) abandon the 'spon- 
u tio na ^ geological theories which are an effect of the economic 
tane0l J Hon and political and ideological domination of the 
e*P c jass by the bourgeois class; and (b) adopt, as its own 
w° r ^ e Marxist science of the history of societies. 
theory sc ientific theory which affords the workers' move- 
knowledge of the laws governing the structure and devel- 
me nt of social formations, the social classes and their struggle, 
°^A the objectives, means, and forms of organization and action 
3 uired to ensure the victory of the revolution. Only this 
>ntific theory can bring about the transformation of the uto- 
ian workers' movement into a revolutionary workers' move- 
ment. Strictly speaking, then, Lenin's celebrated phrase should 
be amended to read: 'without {scientific) revolutionary theory, 
there can be no (objectively) revolutionary worker' movement' 

3. If we compare the following two statements: (a) the work- 
ers' movement existed before Marxist theory and independently 
of it; and (b) without a scientific theory of history, there can be 
no revolutionary workers' movement, we will grasp the theoret- 
ical and historical significance of the union of Marxist theory 
with the workers' movement, which is the great event of modem 

Without this union, Marxist theory would have remained a 
dead letter; without this union, the workers' movement would 
not ^ av e become revolutionary. 

History has, time and again, shown the correctness [justesse] 

this principle. While the revolution has not triumphed wher- 
, union has been realized, it has triumphed only in places 

ere fc his union has been truly realized: for the first time in the 
194Q m ^^ * n Russia, and for the second time in China in 
, Un the other hand, in places where the workers' movement 
W f a d°pted Marxist theory and has not been transformed 
n ' ev ~~ or sample, in England (on which Marx and Engels had 
o n | ne less set great hopes in the mid-nineteenth century) - not 
re Vo i as ^ e evolution not taken place, but the prospects for 
^ovp ° n rema ^ n remote. Again, in places where the workers' 
prw , ent did adopt Marxist theory, but seriously distorted its 
p es in an evolutionist-economistic-reformist direction, as 


in the German Social-Democratic party before 1914, the 
tion was rendered impossible; then, when it did break out^ ' 1 '* 
aftermath of the First World War, it was crushed. Thus h^ ^ 
clearly shows that the union of Marxist theory and the w 0r V 
movement is the necessary condition for the triumph ** 
revolution. ^ 

Yet it also shows that this necessary condition is itself s w 
to an absolute precondition: this union cannot be just any ki i*^ 
union, it cannot be an unprincipled union or a union based °^ 
deformed or distorted principles. It must be a correct union ba ° n 
on correct principles, that is, on rigorously scientific princiol 
and everything that follows from them, theoretically, ideoWi 
cally and politically. 

When the principles governing this union are not correct or 
when correct principles are allowed to degenerate under the 
influence of bourgeois ideology - evolutionism, economism 
empiricism, pragmatism, moral idealism, and so on - the practi- 
cal consequences never take long to make themselves felt. They 
are always harmful, serious, or extremely serious. 

The correct union of Marxist theory and the workers' move- 
ment can therefore only be the product of a long, hard struggle. 
History did not find this union ready-made; it required a 
struggle that lasted for decades, a struggle pursued in myriad, 
complex forms, in order to propose it to, and impose it on, the 
workers' movement via the First and Second Internationals. And 
we know how the Second International ended up: in a histonc 
catastrophe. We know that a decisive intervention on Lenin* 
part was required to rectify the grave theoretical and practical 
errors of the Second International, and to propose to - ^ 
impose on - the workers' movement a correct form of the unio 
of this movement with a correct conception of Marxist theory- 

This struggle, then, is interminable: it is being pursued toa ) 
as well, not only in the Communist Parties of the capi j 
countries, but also in the socialist countries. It will be P _ t 
tomorrow, too, throughout a very long period whose end c 
be foreseen. f ^ 

Thus, if the union of Marxist theory and the workers ^ f 
ment did not tumble from the skies of history, neither is ^ 
us, a definitive result that can simply be taken for grante - ^ 
experience of the past thirty years is proof of this. This un* 



that we must always accomplish anew, a result that we 
* nstantly reinforce and rectify, defending it with the 

lTlU$t vigil ance against the many forms of pressure - visible 
^° visible, open or surreptitious - exerted by the bourgeois 
d&& l ^-bourgeois ideology that is constantly reproduced, and 
f ntiv besieges and besets Marxist theory. 

What does the correctness of this union depend on? Let us 
• take the example of Lenin's struggle against the distorted 
*%, c i P ies of the Second International. 
P what did Lenin do to rectify the erroneous forms of the union 

tablished by the Second International? 

First, he struggled against deviations in the interpretation of 
Marxist theory in both historical materialism (the theoretical 
struggle against the revisionists and populists) and dialectical 
materialism (the struggle against the empirio-criticists and bour- 
geois philosophical ideology). In this way, he restored Marxist 
theory in its specificity and purity and treated it as a true science, 
developing it and using it to produce theoretical discoveries (for 
example, Imperialism). 

Second, Lenin defined a new political line. At the same time, 
he defined new forms of organization (the Bolshevik Party, the 
Third International), leadership and political action. Lenin 
defined this new political line and these new forms of organiz- 
ation and action by analysing the concrete situation, mobilizing 
Marx's scientific concepts to do so. 

In the process, however, Lenin did not only apply the then 
existing Marxist concepts. He produced, in rigorous fashion, new 

eoretical, scientific and philosophical concepts in order to solve 

e P r °blems that history put before him; and he translated the 

uits of his theoretical discoveries into political practice. We 
raw important conclusions from this. 

First conclusion 

tfiov ^ e ex * stence anc * strength of the Russian workers' 
du Ce i ^ nt/ the theoretical struggle and new knowledge pro- 
an iriH ^ - en ^ n would have remained a dead letter, at least for 
and th erm * nate period. But without Lenin's theoretical struggle 
e °retical production, without his theoretical discoveries 


and their consequences (his analysis of the political situati 
definition of new forms of organization and action) a ^^ 
union of Marxist theory with the Russian workers' i^ ov 0rrec t 
would not have been achieved; the proletarian revolution ^ 
perhaps have broken out, but it would not have prevailed ° U ^ 

Second conclusion 

Lenin's actions clearly show us the strategic objectives of fk 
struggle that enabled him to realize this correct union and man* 
possible the triumph of the October Revolution. The strate * 
objectives of Lenin's struggle were the two domains of Marxist 
theory: the science of history (which commands the science of th 
political line, of organization, and of action) and Marxist philos- 
ophy, as well as the articulation between them. 

Lenin struggled against bourgeois ideological distortions of 
Marxist science and philosophy and for the recognition of, 
cognition of and rigorous respect for both Marxist science and 
philosophy and the relation between them. 

He struggled, as no one else ever has, to win recognition for 
the theoretically revolutionary nature (revolutionary, that is, in 
the theoretical realm) of Marxist philosophy and science; he 
struggled to win recognition for the specific nature of theory and 
theoretical work and the absolute requirement for 'purity', rig- 
our, systematicity and fertility in this domain; finally, he 
struggled to win recognition for the decisive role that Marxist 
philosophy plays in theory, ensuring the existence, correctness, 
rigour and development of the Marxist science of history. 

Third conclusion 

Lenin did not content himself with defending Marxist ^^y 
and restoring it in its 'purity' In practice, he treated it as a truy 
living, fertile scientific theory deserves to be treated: by <* e , 
oping it, that is, by producing not only new knowledge [contw 
ances], but also new theoretical concepts. ^ 

One can, of course, use existing scientific concepts to o 
new knowledge, and thus broaden the field of existing *& j 
edge. That is what happens when - to use the conseci 3 
expression - one 'applies' existing scientific concepts to 



f reality or new concrete objects. In this way, it is 
regi°J\ t0 increase the stock of existing knowledge by analysing 
?° SSl ' ular concrete social formation in a particular conjuncture 
a P a Russia before 1905, the new class relations after 1905, in 
(^ r n j s0 on). If/ in this case, one limits oneself to utilizing 
' e scientific concepts without producing new ones, then 
eXlS an only be said to have increased the sum of existing 
pledge, not to have developed theory. 
Rut one can also - and this in fact occurs rather often, even 
hen one sets out to do nothing more than increase the sum of 
hat is known - develop theory, that is, produce new theoreti- 
1 scientific or philosophical concepts. To say that Lenin did 
not simply restore Marxist theory but also developed it accord- 
ingly means that he in fact produced new theoretical concepts in 
Marxist science and philosophy. 

Thus to treat Marxist theory as a scientific theory is to enrich 
it in both senses of the word: to increase the s ock of knowledge 
that it allows us to acquire, and to develop the theory itself: that 
is, to produce new theoretical concepts. 

These results - knowledge on the one hand, theoretical dis- 
coveries on the other - are the product of that labour of criticism, 
elaboration, abstraction, combination of empirical givens with 
abstract principles, and so on, which comprises the specific form 
of practice that we may call theoretical practice. 

The life of a scientific theory is therefore poles apart from 

were contemplation of its principles, even if they are 'pure' A 

scientific theory is not scientific - that is to say, living and fecund 

~ unless it is the site of a veritable theoretical practice. Hence 

Marxist theory is not a dogma: it is a living entity only on 

°naition that it produce new knowledge and theoretical discov- 

rie s. Its development is infinite, just as its object is 'infinite' 

n m). a scientific theory is, therefore, an open-ended disci- 

e ; ^n ideology, in contrast, is a closed system that produces 

q mg new, never ceasing to repeat itself because it has only 

est k^ a ' : to ' e g^ mate ^rtain prejudices, results or objectives 

c l ls hed in advance. The kind of theoretical practice that 

re . cter i2es a scientific discipline, on the other hand, constantly 

^ res n ew discoveries. 
*t, n e °^ a theory does not consist, then, in contemplation of 
c °mmentary on it, or pure and simple repetition of it in 


'examples' that merely illustrate the theory without in fk 
developing it; nor is it limited to 'applying' the theory f 6 '^ 
concrete objects (an increase in the sum of knowledge) tk ne;v 
of a theory also consists in producing new theoretical r * ^ e 
(it consists in the progress of the theory). The life of a th ^^ 
theoretical practice, the production of new knowledge by means 7 * S 
production of new theoretical concepts. ' *** 

Fourth conclusion 

Lenin did not just engage in theoretical practice; he also deduc a 
consequences for political practice from theoretical practice. Thu 
he brought theoretical practice into relation with the real prac- 
tices (economic, political, ideological) which constitute the con- 
ditions of theoretical practice and provide it with its real-concrete 
objects; that is, he brought it into relation with the practice of the 
workers' movement. Yet if he was able to save the workers' 
movement from the deviations of its 'spontaneism', which over- 
lapped with some of the deviations of the Second International, 
this was because he had scientific principles and scientific theo- 
retical knowledge at his disposal. At the same time, Lenin 
demonstrated that political practice can - within determinate 
limits, and on condition that its results are subject to scientific 
analysis - not only verify or invalidate theoretical hypotheses, 
but even produce veritable practical inventions that are the equiv- 
alent of theoretical discoveries, inventions whose content theory 
then has to think, and from which it draws consequences (to 
example, the invention of the dictatorship of the proletariat by 
the Paris Commune, or the invention of the Soviets by the masses 
of workers during the 1905 revolution). 

Such are the essential conclusions to be drawn from Lenin s an 
the Bolshevik Party's struggle to forge a correct union of Mar* 1 * 
theory with the workers' movement. 

We can see that the correctness of this union depends o 
correct conception of Marxist science and philosophy, an 
their relationship; of theory as a theoretical practice that p 
duces new knowledge; and of the relationship between the 
cal practice and political practice. We can also see that tf 
one of these elements or relationships is distorted, the c 


will make themselves felt throughout this complex 
qitf nC an j r ultimately, in political practice itself 
$ys te doubt some of these deviations will have only limited 
or effects that remain limited for a certain period, so that 
e h ve this period in which to rectify them. But it is equally 
* e - this explains certain major failures of the workers' move- 
such as that of the Second International - that some of 
^ e 'deviations can be serious, and can affect too many elements 

this complex whole to be rectified and brought under control 
1 timer with ^ e resu ^ th a * ^ey enc * up producing historical 

It is in this very precise sense that we can say that the outcome 
of the struggle for a correct union of Marxist theory and the 
workers' movement - that is, ultimately, the fate of the socialist 
revolution itself - will be determined not only by something that 
everybody can see - namely, political practice - but also and at the 
same time, and, in certain critical conjunctures, in absolutely 
decisive fashion, by the struggle for a correct conception of Marxist 
theory, of science, philosophy, and the relationship between 
them; the struggle for a correct conception of theoretical practice, 
and of the relationship between theoretical and political practice. 

We should keep these conclusions constantly in mind when 

we are analysing the current tasks of Marxist theory. The 

struggle for the defence and development of Marxist theory, the 

struggle for its rigour and fecundity, is always a crucial factor in 

the revolutionary struggle. In certain critical conjunctures, it can 

even be, as it was in Lenin's day, the determinant factor in that 

abs ] F ° r exam P le ' in 1902 ' m What Is To Be Done?, Lenin pointed out the 
o utely determinant character of theory for political practice at a critical 
er| t m the history of the Russian and international workers' movement: 

1Q ut a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. 77ns cannot 
c l * lsle d upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism is 
tn ! U ^ J ^sorption in the narroivest forms of practical activity In very recent 
r j* a ' 1 ' '""'*' observed a revival of non-Social-Dentocratic [that is, non-Marxist] 

lt lonary tendencies. Under such circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an 
sip, P^rtant' mistake may give rise to most deplorable consequences, and only the short- 
^ tt»ou/rf consider factional disputes and strict distinction of shades to be inoppor- 
to c 5u perfluous< The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for many, many years 

Ess tw e | md ^ ^ e determined by the strengthening of one or another 'shade' (Lenin, 
added W ° rkSf ed " Henry M Christman ' New York ' 1966 ' PP- 69_70; em P h 



II. Towards a theoretical politi 

How should we go about defining, in the light of th 
ciples, the strategic tasks that are of vital importance f ^^ 
munists in the field of Marxist theory today? r ^°m« 

To define these tasks is to define what we must 
theoretical politics, that is, a general line on the action to be • a 
out in the realm of theory: a line that sets tactical and str f ^ 
objectives, and identifies the 'decisive links' in the present th^ C 
retical conjuncture, together with the corresponding mean ***" 

As with any kind of politics, in order to define the strateti 
and tactical tasks of a theoretical politics, we need to have the 
results of a twofold analysis: 

1. an analysis of the general political, ideological and theoret- 
ical conjuncture in which Marxist theory must struggle in order 
to establish itself and develop. Such an analysis has to bring out 
the structure of this conjuncture, with its dominant and subor- 
dinate elements. It has to bring out the complex organic relation- 
ship between political, ideological and theoretical problems. It 
has to study the balance of ideological and scientific forces in the 
theoretical realm. Finally, it has to pinpoint the strategic prob- 
lems in the ideological and theoretical struggle. 

2. an analysis of the present state of Marxist theory, in both the 
capitalist and socialist countries; a balance sheet of its present 
strengths and weaknesses; a critical, historical and theoretical 
examination of the reasons for its results, successes, failures an 

By combining the results of these two scientific analyses, 
can define with certainty the strategic and tactical tasks o 
theoretical politics, as well as the means required to carry it ° 

There can obviously be no question of making such extens 
analyses, even very schematically, within the narrow sc °^. < ^ 
this essay. I shall therefore take the liberty of using a j 
method in order to draw the reader's attention to the proD 
consider to be strategic problem number 1 of Marxist theory - 
of Marxist philosophy or dialectical materialism. 


is I propose is simple: Marxist philosophy today repre- 
Xfr e ,j x i$ive link' on which depend the future of Marxist theory 
vftf 5 ' nevitlu the 'correctness' of the union of Marxist theory and 
goers' cement. 

III. Overcoming the lag between 
Marxist philosophy and Marxist science 

vv that I risk doing violence to the convictions of a number 
( comrades, communist philosophers included, when I declare 
. t one hundred and twenty years after the Manifesto, one 
hundred years after Capital, and fifty years after Lenin, Marxist 
philosophy still objectively constitutes a problem. These comrades 
will certainly join me in acknowledging, in line with Lenin's 
theses, the importance of Marxist philosophy in the ideological 
and theoretical struggle. But they will not necessarily join me in 
affirming that Marxist philosophy is today the 'decisive link', 
and therefore the number 1 strategic task of Marxist theory. 
Above all, they may find it paradoxical, surprising and wrong to 
say that Marxist philosophy still constitutes a problem, and our 
number 1 problem at that 

I shall therefore explain what I have in mind, while anticipat- 
ing possible objections as best I can. 

Let me indicate the meaning of my thesis straight away. 

In declaring that Marxist philosophy is the site of a very 

s pecial problem for us, I obviously do not mean that we know 

o ixing about the nature of Marxist philosophy. The opposite is 

6, since the texts of Marx, Engels and Lenin provide us, when 

Dhi ate reac ' correc tty/ w *th the basic principles of Marxist 

osophy. I mean, rather, to call attention to the genuinely 

tod x * Ca ' situation in which Marxist philosophy finds itself 

first, dialectical materialism objectively lags behind histori- 
an ma terialism in its theoretical development; 

second, today, not just the solution to a number of very 

lm P°rtant theoretical problems, but also the way we pose 

^ e m, depend on dialectical materialism. These problems 


fall to the province of historical materialism 
sciences. °th^ r 

If Marxist philosophy is the site of a problem, and 
problem at that, it is because of this objective paradox ^^^ 
therefore say, using a metaphor of Lenin's, that although h** ^ 
tical materialism should stay 'one step ahead' of historical ^ 
rialism in order to play its appointed role in the theo ^ 
conjuncture, it has in fact fallen several steps behind. Ca ' 

Let us first examine the lag between Marxist philosophy 
historical materialism. 

This is an objective fact; no one who is familiar with Marx* 
theory can deny it. To give non-specialists a sense of it, we mieht 
begin by pointing out that the classic authors have bequeathed 
us infinitely fewer texts on philosophy than on economic, politi- 
cal or historical theory. Marx offers the most striking example: 
in philosophy, he has left nothing even remotely comparable to 
Capital. But it is not only a question of the quantity of the texts 
available to us; it is also a question of the quality of what they 

One can perfectly well situate the qualitative difference 
between the texts on dialectical materialism and those on histor- 
ical materialism available to us: it lies in a difference in theoretical 
elaboration - to be very precise, in a difference in conceptual 
precision and rigour as well as in theoretical systematicity* In a 
word, it is a difference in what Marx calls the abstract (or 
conceptual) "forms' and the 'order of exposition'. Capital displays 
exceptional conceptual precision, intellectual rigour and theoret- 
ical systematicity. The philosophical texts available to us are a 
very long way from possessing these qualities; moreover, tney 
by no means claim to. Engels warns us, in the preface to An 
Diihring, that his book is a 'polemical work'; thus it is no 
rigorous, systematic exposition of Marxist philosophy. The san 1 
holds for Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-criticism. These 
books of ideological and political combat, not rigorous, syst 
atic expositions of dialectical materialism comparable to Cop 
In the last instance, then, the lag between Marxist ph^ 050 "^ 
and historical materialism is a difference in conceptual ng 
and precision as well as theoretical sytematicity. .^j 

We can explain this lag by adducing, first, diverse his 


c n ^els himself says that he and Marx did not 'have the 
r^ 5 ° n3 develop philosophy as fully as everything else. And it is 
titfie |° a practical standpoint, that for a long time historical 
trtf e ' | isrn represented the 'decisive link', and that it was 

cr itica y imperatives of the class struggle. 15 Indeed, if most of 

^ \\\ important that progress should be made in this field, 
cr itica y im p era tives of the class struggle. 15 Indeed, if most of 
^ v€f I l 0S0 phical texts handed down to us by our classic authors 


a P " on to his own ground'/ and, often, to fight him with his 

xts of ideological struggle, that is because these authors felt 
afC ssing need to reply to the attacks of the enemy, to 'follow 

weapons, which were simply tarned against him. Hence the 
° latively improvised and, in any event, limited nature of the 
asorung and concepts deployed, and their relative lack of 
rieour when compared with those mobilized in Capital We could 
adduce many more historical reasons, such as the evolutionism 
and empiricism of certain theoreticians and leaders of the Second 
International and, in the 1920s, the historicism of the 'ultra-left' 
theoreticians, succeeded by the pragma «ism and dogmatism of 
the period of the 'personality cult'. Evolutionism, empiricism, 
historicism, pragmatism and dogmatism are ideological tenden- 
cies that run counter to not only the development of Marxist 
philosophy but even, under certain circumstances, its very exist- 
ence, by virtue of both their theoretical and practical effects. 

We need only examine these so-called historical reasons with 
a modicum of attention to see that they are not just historical, 
but also theoretical 

for example, the ideologies that Engels and Lenin had to 

combat on philosophical grounds (Duhring's humanist idealism, 

e enipirico-criticist idealism and historicist subjectivism of 

nin s adversaries, etc.) most certainly were historical obstacles 

Ute development of Marxist philosophy; but they were at the 

t e ^ rne theoretical obstacles, revisionist ideological interpre- 

k l0n s of Marxism that Marxist philosophy had to combat - that 

refute theoretically - if it was itself to survive and progress. 

in ^ this Point, see Engels, Letter of 21-22 September 1890 to Joseph Bloch, 
Uslt er v,f nc * ^ n 8 e ls, Selected Correspondence, ecL S.W. Ryazanskaya, trans. E. 
an °n w'^ OSCow / 1975, pp. 394-6; Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism, trans. 

r ' CelT*' 197 °' PP ' 23 °' 318 " 19 - 
^Pirin Uses * n * s formula in Anti-Duhring, as does Lenin in Materialism and 

l °-criticistn. 


Similarly, the evolutionism, empiricism, historicism, p ra 
and dogmatism of a later period constituted histori at ^ 
political obstacles to the development of Marxist phi] ^ 
only to the extent that they were simultaneously then ^ 
obstacles to it. retj <$l 

Thus it is not enough to adduce simple historical fa 
explain why Marxist philosophy lags behind historical mat - *° 
ism. One must also adduce theoretical reasons, which, as vve h 
just seen, involve the struggle that Marxist philosophy inevita k^ 
had to wage against various forms of bourgeois philosonh ^ 
ideology in order to secure not only the right to develop k 
also, quite simply, 4 the right to exist. The unity of the historical 
and theoretical reasons that can be evoked in this connection - 
in other words, the reasons for the lag between Marxist philos- 
ophy and historical materialism - is to be found in this struggle 
against bourgeois philosophical ideology and for the existence 
and development of Marxist philosophy. 

If this thesis is correct, we must go much further. It was not 
just 'because they did not have the time' that Marx and Engels 
did not raise Marxist philosophy to the theoretical level of 
Capital It is no accident that Engels only belatedly joined the 
philosophical battle against Dtihring, who had been wreaking 
havoc in the socialist party for ten years. It is no accident that 
Engels was merely reacting to the attack of an adversary who 
had stolen a march on him, on the ground chosen by this 
adversary, philosophy. In a certain sense, Marx and Engels 
learned something from Diihring, something whose importance 
they had previously underestimated: the fact that the existence 
of Marxist philosophy was vital to the Marxist science of history 

Thus the lag between dialectical and historical materi alis 
goes back much further than the historical events just mention 
and, consequently, involves more than the individuals Marx an 
Engels. This lag is not just the consequence of certain politica 
ideological events, nor even of the time constraints or p eTS „ 
preferences of the founders of Marxism; in the final analys r 
is the consequence of a law of the history of the productio 
knowledge. To be very precise, it is the effect of the lawgo v M 
the emergence of a new science in its relationship to the new phw " 
required by the new science, 



n roughly formulate this general law as follows: when 
W e ., neW science is founded in a great 'continent' as yet 
a && xC j by scientific knowledge, yet dominated by theoreti- 
ufl e *P a rions of an ideological kind, the new philosophy that 
cal '° sc jence requires can emerge and develop only belatedly 
th e n pY inevitably, then, it lags behind the new science. 
W r 5 an a radically new science founded in a new, previously 
nlored 'continent': for example, Geometry, founded by the 
Ufie ks (Thales and others); Physics, founded by Galileo; or 
u* torV/ founded by Marx. In each of these three instances, the 
sciences opened up a new 'continent' of reality to knowi- 
ng - a continent that was independent of the other, already 
explored continents. Once this new 'continent' is opened up by 
the new science, other sciences can appear in it, one after the 
other: they explore 'regions' of this 'continent', but do not open 
up new 'continents' For example, experimental chemistry, 
founded by Lavoisier, is clearly a new science, yet it does not 
open up a new 'continent', but merely occupies a 'region' within 
the 'continent' of physical nature opened up by Galileo's discov- 
ery, a 'region' hitherto unexplored u y scientific knowledge. In 
the case of these regional sciences, the law which states that 
philosophy lags behind the new science does not apply if the 
essentials of the philosophy called for by the new regional 
science were produced after the foundation of the science that 
opened up the new 'continent'. 
The empirical history of theories verifies this law. 
The philosophy required after the Greeks opened up the 
continent' of mathematics - strictly speaking, the first philos- 
ophy in human history - emerged belatedly: it began with Plato 
d was developed by Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, and others, 
of e if 0so Phy required after Galileo opened up the 'continent' 
Physical nature also emerged belatedly: it began with Descartes 
c Was developed by Leibniz, Malebranche, the eighteenth- 
did ^ Philosophers, Kant, and others. In contrast, Lavoisier 
f ^ ot induce the emergence of any truly new philosophy by 
ex - ln 8 chemistry: the principles of this philosophy already 

when Lavoisier made his discovery, 
s^- rx s an d Engels's scientific discovery, in its turn, was 

since t0 ^ e same ' aw as ^ e discoveries of Thales and Galileo: 
°pened up a new 'continent' to knowledge, the philos- 


ophy which it carried within it and for which it called 
belatedly, that is, lagged behind the new science. 5 The ch' ^^ 
of Marx's works in itself provides confirmation of this Tk°'°Sy 
(albeit still highly ambiguous) formulation of the th * ^ 
principles of the science of history appears in The Gernia ^^ 
ogy. Yet, in The German Ideology, Marx declares in no im '* 
terms that philosophy must be purely and simply aboli h ^ 
not so that it may be 'realized', as he had maintained ' " 
earlier philosophical works, but in order to make it possibl 
'undertake the study of positive things'. This hardly means th 
there is no philosophy at work in The German Ideology tv 
philosophy found there is, precisely, a dialectical positiv' 
empiricism accompanied by a historicist philosophy of the sub- 
ject (individuals are conceived as the 'subjects' of history) unre- 
lated to the dialectical materialism elaborated later; it eventually 
disappears. This, however, does mean that dialectical material- 
ism is absent from The German Ideology; the positivist-empiricist 
thesis about the abolition of philosophy ratifies its absence. Thus 
the fact that dialectical materialism lags behind historical materi- 
alism makes itself felt in The German Ideology in the form of the 
absence of dialectical materialism. Yet this absence is simul- 
taneously a presence: the presence of the idealist-empiricist 
philosophical ideology still at work in The German Ideology. 

We can draw an important conclusion from this 'absence' and 
'presence': the place of philosophy is never empty. If this place is 
not occupied by the new philosophy required by the new 
science, it is occupied by an earlier philosophy foreign to that 
science - one that, in this case, does much more than simply lag 
behind it; it contradicts it. The contradiction can be resolved only 
when the new philosophy begins to emerge, and is then deve - 
oped and reinforced. 

We can see this very clearly in Marx. The idealist philosop , 
still at work in The German Ideology gradually yields to a n 
philosophy as a result of the conceptual progress made by 
new science. d But this new philosophy necessarily lags be 
the theoretical state of the new science for a long time - not o 


d The Manifesto; T)\e Poverty of Philosophy; Wages, Price, and Profit; A Corttn 
to the Critique of Political Economy; Capital 


rively, but also qualitatively: its concepts lack the preci- 
qitf ntl . our a nd systematicity of those of the new science. 
$io n ' p Xa mpl^ ^is lag makes itself felt in the continuing, 
?°l've theoretical gap between (1) philosophy as it is explicitly 
c*t eC | zeC ) a nd defined in Capital; and (2) the same philosophy 
^f is practiced anc * P ut to WOI "k by Marx in the scientific 
a5 1 ~es of the mode of capitalist production in Capital 
afl ^ have, for example, demonstrated the existence of this gap 
ween the formulation and the reality of the philosophy in 
r vital: that is to say, I have demonstrated, with respect to the 
f mous phrase about the 'inversion' of Hegel, that the theoretical 
definition of philosophy in Capital lags behind Marx's own 
philosophical practice in it. This phrase is extremely important, 
since, in defining Marx's relationship to Hegel as one of 'inver- 
sion', it ipso facto proposes a definition of Marxist philosophy. 
But the phrase about 'inversion' is not the concept of, but a 
metapior for, the solution of the problem it raises. 'Inversion' is 
undoubtedly a concept in Feuerbach's philosophy, from which 
Marx borrows; it is the concept of the actually existing relation- 
ship between Feuerbach's philosophy and Hegel's. But it is not 
the concept of the relationship between Marx's philosophy and 
Hegel's; it is merely a metaphor, and this metaphor merely 
indicates that, between Hegel and Marx, a theoretical revolution 
took place. In order to know what kind of revolution it was, we 
have critically to compare the metaphor of 'inversion' with the 
reality of the revolution accomplished by Marx in his scientific 
w ork. This comparison reveals that that revolution consisted not 
m an 'inversion', but in replacing an ideological problematic with 
a n ew, scientific problematic 

f n con clusion allows us to go still further by raising the 

owing question: how can we account for the general law 

ording to which philosophy lags behind science in the case of 

nces that open up new 'continents' to knowledge? Here we 

sol ° Urse ^ ves facing a problem we are not yet in a position to 

diff ' ° f P er ^ a P s even t0 pose, if it is true that there is a crucial 

hav rence between stating the existence of a difficulty (as we 

Prohl anc * P os * n S ^is difficulty in the (scientific) form of a 

ern Let us nevertheless advance a provisional explanation. 

tS ^fM87ff, i?C 145ff. 


It may be said that the lag between philosophy and s ■ 
in the type of example under consideration, a 'particular ^ nce ^ 
the 'lag' between theory and practice, if it is clearly s « dSe of 
that, since what is involved is a science, the practice in Q r^ 
is a theoretical practice. Philosophy's lag behind science n 
thus be one instance of a fundamental principle of materi r^ 
the primacy of practice. Without a doubt, we need to sear lf^ 
this direction. But a general principle yields knowledge onlv r 
is specified in the forms required by its singular object. How ** 
we specify this general principle? I shall confine myself t 
bringing out one aspect of the specific conditions under which t 
takes effect. 

Whenever a new science is constituted, opening the way to 
knowledge of a new 'continent', a veritable theoretical revolution 
occurs in the domain in which the object of that science is to be 
found. The new science broaches a 'continent', that is, an absol- 
utely new object. Yet this field is already occupied by ideological 
theories which, although they treat of this object (in our case, the 
'philosophies of history' that preceded Marx), make it the object 
of a discourse that is necessarily and massively distorted. 

The theoretical revolution that intervenes in this 'continent' 
consists in rejecting these ideological theories and replacing them 
with a scientific theory. However, since it does not explore one 
region of a continent whose major principles are already known 
but, rather, 'opens up' a new 'continent', how can this new 
scientific theory come into existence? 

It cannot borrow its theoretical concepts from the ideologies 
occupying this 'continent', because they are profoundly distorted 
representations of reality. Nor can it simply 'apply 7 to this new 
'continent' theoretical concepts that hold for other 'continents, 
since this 'continent' is completely new. Finally, it cannot directly 
[and] immediately extract its theoretical concepts and their sy " 
tern from the empirical reality of its new object: that is 
empiricist, ideological, and hence distorted conception or tn 
practice and history of the sciences. 

The new science resolves this contradiction in the follow h 
way: it imports a number of theoretical elements (concep ' 
categories, methods, etc.) into its field, borrowing them tf t 
existing scientific or philosophical disciplines outside that ne 
It puts these theoretical elements to work on the reality ° 


biect and, in performing this labour, it also rectifies these 
([& ° j theoretical elements in order to adapt them to the 
iiflP Q f their new 'continent'. 
tVs imp orta ^ on * s indispensable, but it comes at a high price. 
t begi n with, it comes at the price of an inevitable discor- 
ucart\ between the imported concepts and their object in 
field of the new science. This discordance is corrected and 
A ced in the practice of the science as it develops: the imported 
re cep ts and their system are rectified one step at a time. 
C But the rectification of this discordance within the science 
ner or later generates philosophical counter-currents. When 
t is a question of a science that actually opens up a new 
continent', there finally comes a moment in which the radical 
novelty of this object calls into question, not the imported 
scientific concepts, but the grand philosophical categories in which 
these concepts had previously been thought. Let us take a classic 
example. Galilean science not only borrowed and rectified 
imported concepts in order to think the laws of physical move- 
ment: there came a moment in which it challenged the existing 
philosophical categories, such as the concept of causality. This 
was the Cartesian moment; it was then, after the scientific 
revolution, that a philosophical revolution took place. It bore on 
basic philosophical categories - or, to be more precise, on the 
system or a segment of the system of the ey^ting philosophical 
categories, which it replaced with new ones. 

Experience shows, however, that if science needs time to 

rectify the scientific concepts it imports, we also need time: first, 

to perceive the need for new philosophical categories, and, 

second, to produce them. Indeed, what holds for all revolutions 

jtolds for this philosophical revolution as well: it does not begin 

y »at, as soon as the need for it makes itself felt. The tools for 

ccomplishing it must also be available. But they are not always 

ailable. In the history of philosophy and the sciences, as in the 

story of human societies, it is sometimes necessary to wait a 

*? long time for a favourable conjuncture to offer the theoreti- 

tools adapted to the solution of a long-pending problem. To 

y that it is necessary to wait for these tools is to say that the 

it ] nCe ° r Philosophy in question cannot produce them all by 

, t; it needs outside help, needs to import new theoretical 

en ts to solve its critical problems. But these theoretical 


elements are not delivered by fiat: it is necessary to \v * 
they are produced by developments internal to other disc' 1^' 

This holds for the sciences. It sometimes happens th t **• 
remain stymied for a long time in the face of an in s v 
problem: then progress in another science, or in philos 
suddenly provides them with the theoretical tools they [ a ? ^ 
As we know, this law came into play in the foundation of u 
Marxist science of history: the encounter of three different d ■ 
plines (English political economy, German philosophy 
French Utopian socialism) was needed to bring it into the world 

The same law also holds for the new philosophy for which 
new science feels the need in its own practice. The need is not 
enough: the theoretical tools indispensable for the production of 
new philosophical categories are also required. These tools may 
not exist for a certain period of time, in which case it becomes 
necessary to wait for a favourable theoretical conjuncture (pro- 
gress in some other science, etc.) to produce them. Until a 
favourable conjuncture comes about, the philosophical revolu- 
tion objectively called for by the development of a new science 
is left pending, as is the rectification of its concepts: philosophy 
lags behind science. 

This holds for Marxism, all historical problems and ideologi- 
cal struggles aside. In the most systematic, rigorous Marxist 
work, Capital, there are a great many signs of the pressing need 
for new philosophical categories that fully correspond to the 
theoretical practice of its scientific analyses. Together with this 
need, which everywhere strives to 'break through' to the surface, 
we observe, in Capital, the existence of objective theoretical limits 
that this need could not transcend, given the state of the tools 
available at the time. 

It can be shown, for example, that Marxist science calls for a 
new category of causality and the dialectic, and that it sitft ul " 
taneously calls for a revolution in the old universe or tn 
philosophical categories of subject and object, essence an 
phenomenon, inside and outside, and so on. At the same tiifl ^ 
however, it is apparent that this need comes up against ins 
mountable theoretical limits in Capital, the fact that the in eaI ^ 
capable of producing these new philosophical categories * 
lacking. aS 

That, profoundly, is why Marx is literally compelled, even 


r tf£ Hi* 

the greatest possible distance from Hegel, to invoke 
tie ta . categories. This is why the metaphor of 'inversion' is 
\{e$ e r tant. It is not a slip or an oversight on Marx's part, a 
so ilT1 P rU istic failing. It is the rigorous symptom of his contra- 
ifl ere hjiosophical situation, which, at the time, necessarily 
jjctory unre solved. Marx could think his total emancipation 
rcrn Kegel's philosophy only as a function of Hegel's philos- 
fr° T^at is why he could rid himself of Hegel only with the 
SJof a metaphor* 
It is immediately obvious that the lag between philosophy 
. sc ience induces ideological and theoretical effects that are 
tentially quite serious, for they are effects of distortion. Today 
> is clear that a whole series of distortions of Marxist theory were 
and still are based on this metaphor of Marx's 'inversion' of 
Hegel - that is to say, on a false conception of the Marx-Hegel 
relationship: for example, the 'evolutionist' distortion of the Sec- 
ond International, the 'voluntarism distortion of the ultra-left 
theoreticians and movements of the 1920s, and so on. Obviously 
I am not claiming that the nature and historical destiny of the 
Second International, c: the ultra-leftism of the 1920s, can be 
attributed wholly to theoretical deviations that are due, in the 
final analysis, to the inadequacy of the formula of 'inversion'; in 
the last instance, class relations and the forms of the class 
struggle were the determining factors. But precisely because it 
was also a question of the forms of the class struggle, these 
forms were to a great extent dependent on the social-democratic 
a nd, later, communist organizations; on their theory, organiza- 
tional and operative methods and political line - and, therefore, 
on their interpretation of Marxist theory. 

Hence it can be said that, in large measure, a measure depend- 

n J on theory alone, the evolutionist (Second International) or 

v °luntarist (the 1920s) distortions of Marxist theory were based 

a mistaken conception of the Marx-Hegel relationship, 7 a 

Option that masked the revolutionary specificity of Marxist 

0r y in philosophy. I limit myself to these two old, familiar 

^ples, but one could mention a great many others, contem- 

b , ty examples among them, to show how and why the lag 

een Marxist philosophy and Marxist science can generate 

e the passages in FM and RC cited above. 


effects of distortion that are not merely theoretical but 
ideological and, ultimately, political. a ko 

One more word relevant to our own situation. If, ^ ^ 
analysis, Marxist philosophy lags behind historical materi V 
for the reasons just cited, two consequences follow. s,Tt 

First consequence 

Philosophy is not condemned to lag behind science for ev 
such a lag is characteristic of the first phase of a new scientifi 
revolution. The length of this phase varies, but, when the time I 
ripe, it becomes possible to move beyond it. The lag that is 
inevitable at the outset can, then, be overcome in a later phase 
Today, precisely, we find ourselves in this later phase; our task 
is to overcome this lag. The law governing the history of scien- 
tific and philosophical theories, which explains why this lag is 
necessary, also helps us to understand the conditions that allow 
us to overcome it. Thus it is a law which encourages not fatalism, 
repetition and resignation but, rather, labour, research and dis- 
covery. Such labour is indispensable if we are to rectify the 
theoretical distortions, both ideological and practical, produced 
by this lag. 

Second consequence 

We have every reason to believe that the new tools now available 
to us are appropriate for carrying out this crucial, urgent theo- 
retical work. 

I have in mind, first, the effects of the new political and 
ideological conjuncture. Not only can the problems posed by this 
conjuncture stimulate theoretical research; it is this conjurtctur 
itself which allows us to pose, openly and clearly, the problem 
the lag of Marxist philosophy. 

I also have in mind the contemporary theoretical conjunctu • 
Emerging before our very eyes is a theoretical conjunctto 
several disciplines external to Marxism, which on their o 
ground, in their own fashion, and from their own panic 
angles of approach, raise philosophical problems that are uj 1 
niably related to the new philosophical problems p° se 
Marxist science. 




on e these disciplines, let me mention, in particular, (i) the 

■ ings °f a ^ ue ^ stor y °f *h e sciences, a truly historical 

^V mology; (M) ^e beginnings of critical and theoretical reflec- 

e? lS n Freud's work; and (iii) the modern linguistics that 

b° . f rorn Ferdinand de Saussure. 

i shall take only one example: on its own ground, and in its 
fashion, each of these scientific disciplines also poses the 

blem of the definition of a new category of causality. It poses 
f terms such that the conjunction of its problem with the 
Marxist philosophical problem of causality can help us to take a 
decisive step forward in philosophy. 

I do not think I am mistaken in saying that dialectical materi- 
alism's backwardness vis-^-vis historical materialism is a 
phenomenon we shall be able to master in the years ahead. It 
can already be predicted that this theoretical lag will, for the 
most part, soon be overcome. 

But, if we are to overcome it, we will have to work seriously 
in philosophy: we will have to pinpoint the problems confront- 
ing us, pose them clearly, making judicious use of the theoretical 
tools available in both the works of Marxism and certain import- 
ant works produced by ron-Marxist scholars and pioneers - and 
arrive at a solution to them. 

It was with all these reasons in mind that I said that Marxist 
philosophy is the site of a problem - not only because of its 
backwardness, but also because we must treat this backwardness 
as a problem to be solved, precisely in order to overcome it. In 
the final analysis, to treat Marxist philosophy today as a problem 
*s to treat it, in a Marxist perspective, as if it were a truly scientific 
dl scipline; it is to take the conjuncture in which it finds itself into 
account, to take into account the law of unequal development 
at explains its backwardness, precisely in order to overcome it. 

*s also to home in on all the effects of distortion that this 
. c kwardness spawns in theory, ideology and practice. Thus it 

° understand the great lesson that Marx, Engels and Lenin 

e handed down to us, and to continue their work - not by 
th en ^ n S ourselves with mechanically repeating everything that 
call given us, but by taking up everything that is theoreti- 

Wh ac * vance d with a view to developing it, and by rectifying 
ba i eVer * s theoretically backward so that we can overcome this 
hardness and correct the distortions it produces. 


If Marxist philosophy is the site of a problem, it is c 
sense. ^ *hi$ 

IV. The two strategic tasks of 
Marxist philosophy 

If Marxist philosophy is not just a problem, but the numb 
problem, the reason is, above all, the current conjuncture 
just the political and ideological conjuncture, but the theoretic l 
conjuncture as well. 

That is the thesis I shall now go on to develop. 

If it is a matter of extreme urgency that Marxist philosophy 
overcome its theoretical backwardness, that is because this back- 
wardness blocks or retards its intervention in critical areas of the 
ideological and theoretical conjuncture, where such intervention 
is urgently required and critically important. Marxist philosophy 
must consequently overcome its backwardness in order to be 
equal to its historical tasks in three areas: 

1. First of all, it must struggle against all the ideological 
distortions of Marxist theory; that is to say, in the final 
analysis, against the effects of bourgeois and petty-bour- 
geois ideology on the interpretation of Marxist theory. The 
struggle against these distortions is a crucial, pressing task 

2. It must contribute to the progress of the sciences that come 
within the purview of historical materialism. The develop- 
ment of historical materialism today depends on the solu- 
tion of crucial theoretical problems, both scientific ana 
philosophical, which can be posed and resolved only *vi 
the help, and through the intervention, of dialectic 

3. It must subject the disciplines that have developed un 
the rubric of 'Human Sciences 7 or 'Social Sciences to 
radical critique, setting their houses in order. In ^ , 
current state, most of these disciplines are in the hands 
bourgeois ideology. They must be thoroughly overhau 
and established on the basis of their only authentic p 


TtfE H 

. ioc- those of historical materialism and dialectical 

t hard to see that the third task largely depends on the 
'* lS j cince what is at stake is the existence of historical 

ria |ism and its consequences. 
i 113 nrincipl^/ these three tasks ultimately come down to two: 

Strategic task number 1: the defence of Marxist philosophy and 
science against bourgeois ideology. 

Strategic task number 2: the development of historical materi- 
alism and the regional sciences that depend on it, by way of 
the reconquest and overhaul of the disciplines now dominated 
by bourgeois ideology. 

I shall now proceed to examine these two tasks. Obviously, my 
analysis can only be extremely schematic. 

V. Strategic task number i: 



Bourgeois ideology attacks Marxist theory not only from the 
outside, but also from the inside, finding support in the various 
forms of 'spontaneism' of the working class, the petty bourgeoi- 
sie, and the intellectuals. These 'spontaneous' forms are, essen- 
tially, petty-bourgeois legal and moral idealism (humanism, 
whenever it is presented as the theoretical foundation of Marxism); 
^ e em piricism and positivism of scientists; and the pragmatism 
those charged with practical tasks (politicians, technicians, 
Q- s o on). These 'spontaneous' forms of the ideology internal 
the working-class movement reflect bourgeois ideological 
™ s external to the workers' movement. 
I . 0r deep-seated historical and theoretical reasons, these ideo- 
i s , forms common to bourgeois ideology and the 'spontane- 
, °f the workers' movement comprise a system whose 

te K en * S are com P' ementar y- Th us positivism, empiricism and 
lc: ism go hand in hand, at a very general level, with moral 


idealism. To go straight to the point: the form that h 
greatest threat for Marxist theory today is the pair 'hu ^ 
technicism' It appears in broad daylight in the capitalist c ^ty 
in the present ideological conjuncture, dominated by techn ^ 
and humanism. It also makes itself felt even within the Co ^^ 
nist parties, and in both capitalist and socialist countries U ~ 
form of a tendency to interpret Marxist philosophy as a th'eo • 
humanism, and also in the form of a tendency to put uncriti^' 
mechanistic faith in the development of the sciences and t u 
nology, while underestimating the role of politics, ideology 

On these matters, however, we must once again trace thine 
back to a point that considerably antedates present-day phenom- 
ena. We can find a historical explanation for these two tendencies 
in the contemporary events of the twentieth century: the reaction 
against the effects of the 'personality cult' (the tendency towards 
theoretical humanism) or the 'impetuous development' of tech- 
nology and the sciences (the tendency towards technocracy or 
technicism). Or we can seek the source of these temptations in 
the past history of the workers' movement: technicism is associ- 
ated with the mechanistic economism of the Second Inter- 
national; theoretical humanism with certain forms of theoretical 
revisionism (a moral or Kantian interpretation of Marxism by 
certain theoreticians of the Second International). And we can 
explain these older forms in terms of the influence of bourgeois 

But the truth is that we must also give theoretical reasons 
connected with the law we stated above, the law that explains 
why Marxist philosophy inevitably lags behind Marxist science. 

We have seen that the place of philosophy is never empty- 
The place left unoccupied by historical materialism is therefor 
occupied by a totally different philosophy: by, first, a proper / 
ideological philosophy, and then by the various forms in wni ^ 
the new philosophy strives to express its revolutionary s P eCI Y. 
ity, although they remain for a long time subordinate to 
dominant forms of bourgeois ideological philosophy. We sh° 
not close our eyes to the fact but, rather, look it square in 
face: empiricism and evolutionism (which is, as it were, the vu g 
form of Hegelianism) have left their stamp on the history 
Marxist philosophy, particularly under the Second Interna* 1 


hilosophy has not yet rid itself of them for good and 
M af * a there is a danger that its current attempts to rid itself of 
a ll. ^ .11 se nd it plunging headlong into another ideological 
th^ hv - the form of idealism represented by theoretical 

fnitruM s em piricism, evolutionism and theoretical human- 
11 for a few words of explanation. The great Marxist 
isir \ ^ave always struggled against empiricism and pragma- 
163 (the practical effect of empiricism): Marx (the 1857 Introduc- 
^ ) Engels (Anti-Duhring; Dialectics of Nature), Lenin 
^hAaierialism and Empirio-criticism), and others as well. They have 
tso waged a vigorous struggle against the interpretation of 
Marxism which makes it a form of moral idealism: Marx's 
struggle against the 'true socialists', against Proudhon, Weitling 
and Kriege; Engels's struggle against Diihring's moral spiritual- 
ism; Kautsky's struggle against Bernstein's Kantianism; Lenin's 
struggle against the populists' moralism; in France, Maurice 
Thorez's struggle against L6on Blum's humanism, and so on. 
The struggle against evolutionism, on the other hand, did not give 
rise to philosophical works: it remained a practical struggle of a 
political kind, revolving around political problems (the concep- 
tion of the revolution, the organizational forms of the class 
struggle, the political line on the First World War) as well as 
problems of strategy and tactics. Lenin is the incomparable 
representative of this practical struggle against evolutionism. 

It is rather well known, at least in principle, why empiricism is 
an Geology and, consequently, why the empiricist interpretation 
Marxism is a theoretical distortion of it. Empiricism, as a 

eor y of knowledge, neglects or underestimates the role of the 
P operly theoretical elements that come into play in all knowl- 

ge, even 'empirical' knowledge.* Empiricism does not take 
account the specificity and nature of the practice that 
red UCeS ^ now l e( lge - that is to say, theoretical practice. It 
of CeS ^ eore hcal practice to other forms of practice. It speaks 
s Pe ft° tlCe * n 8 enera '' without distinguishing the levels and 
0xt[ - c differences that distinguish the various practices: econ- 
*nd P. ract * ce ' political practice, ideological practice, scientific 
P ^osophical practice. That is why it produces both a false 

" RC 9 4-100; 'OTW' 43-67. 


idea of theory and a false idea of practice. The practical 
quence is practicism or pragmatism, which Lenin very < ?** 8 ** 
condemned, ea *ly 

Today, one of the most dangerous forms of empiri * 
historicism - in other words, the idea that it is possible to J^ ^ 
the nature of history directly, immediately, without first prod ** 
ing the theoretical concepts indispensable to acquiring J^ Uc " 
edge of it, A historicist interpretation of Marxism (visible f 
example, in some of Gramsci's writings) consists in affirm- ° r 
that Marx simply 'historicized' the results of classical polta \ 
economy, that he simply injected 'process' or the 'dialectic' btn 
the old philosophical categories, and so on. Historicism neglects 
a fundamental theoretical fact: Marx's discovery of absolutely 
new theoretical concepts with which to think the reality of what 
we call, and experience as, 'history'. 

Theoretical* humanism, or the moral-idealistic interpretation of 
the theoretical foundations of Marxist doctrine, should be pre- 
cisely defined. This interpretation consists in substituting ideo- 
logical notions for the scientific concepts and philosophical 
categories* that provide the real theoretical foundation for Marx- 
ism. The Marxist science of history takes as its theoretical foun- 
dation a system of concepts: mode of production, infrastructure 
(productive forces and relations of production), superstructure 
(juridico-poiitical and ideological), social class, class struggle, 
and so forth. For these scientific concepts, which constitute the 
theoretical foundation of the science of history, theoretical 
humanism substitutes ideological notions: man, alienation, the 
disalienation of man, the emancipation of man, man's reappro - 
priation of his species-being, 'the whole man', 10 and so on. & 
Marxist philosophy, the basic theoretical concepts are the concepts 
of materialism and the dialectic, the distinction between being 
and thought, between the real object and the object of thougn , 
the primacy of practice, and so forth. Theoretical hunrtanis 
substitutes for these concepts the ideological notions of sut>J 
and object, consciousness, activity, act, creation, and so on. 

Of course, after making these substitutions, theoretical hum 
ism rediscovers the classic concepts of Marxism; hovve ' 
because it interprets them in the light of these ideological not* 
that stand in for a theoretical foundation, the meaning °* . 
classic concepts is distorted. For example, Theoretical hum^ 1 


the concept of 'social relations' (relations of production, 
f^ uCeS | elations, ideological relations) to 'human' or 'intersub- 
P°^ C ^ lations. The concept of 'practice', for example, is assim- 
j^ ve t ^ e notion of the activity or act of a subject, and so on. 
^ heoretical humanism distorts - to a greater or lesser extent, 
Th u5 j. on the case, but always to some extent - the concepts 

f Marxist theory. 

c n when this interpretation takes its distance from bour- 

humanism, even when it declares 11 that Marx conceives 

8 e ssen ce of man in a new way (practical, social and historical), 

pmains the prisoner of moral ideology. The concept of the 

man essence of man is denounced as ideological and religious 

c early as The German Ideology, in terms devoid of all ambiguity. 

This concept is completely absent from the basic theoretical 

system of historical and dialectical materialism. The science of 

history and Marxist philosophy are based on very different 

concepts that have nothing to do with the ideological concept of 


This does not mean that communists do not have a political 
and moral 'ideal'. In struggling to establish the socialist mode of 
production, communists struggle to abolish the exploitation of 
the working class, together with its effects. In the long term, they 
struggle for the establishment of the communist mode of produc- 
tion - that is to say, for the abolition of all classes and the 
emancipation of all men'. Their ideal is inseparable from their 
struggle, but, like their struggle, it is based on historical necess- 
! ty, the need to make a revolution, the need to establish a 
socialist mode of production, and so forth. This historical necess- 
ir y is not, however, intelligible in terms of the notions that express 

m munists' political and moral ideals. This means, to be very 
P e cise, that the notions of 'the emancipation of all men', 'free- 

|tt and 'man' are ideological notions, not fundamental theo- 

cal concepts of Marxist theory (science and philosophy). 
^ Sain, to reject an interpretation of Marxism as a form of 
vid r ^ lca ' humanism does not mean that the problems of 'indi- 
im a or Su bj ec ti v ity' are foreign to Marxist theory, or are 
i n . S^ary problems. However, to the extent that they do feature 
sq d i\ e y ar ^ subordinate to the (scientific) concepts and (philo- 
^ar* cat egories of Marxist theory. They are subordinate to 
s t theory; Marxist theory is not subordinate to them. This 


simply means that the concepts of individuality, subj e 
human person, and so on, and, a fortiori, the notions of V ^' ^ 
moral subject, 'creative labour', creation, freedom, creatT^' ^ 
dom, 12 the 'creation of man by man', and so forth u* ^^ 
legitimate claim to being the theoretical concepts on*** n ° 
Marxist theory is based. When one presents them as the th ^ 
ical basis of Marxism, one inevitably lapses into a pettv k^ 
geois moral or religious ideology that is anterior and fore* ^ 
Marxism - the very ideology with which Marx had to bre t! -° 
order to found his theory, beginning with the 'settlin ^ 
accounts' he undertook in The German Ideology. 

The evolutionist interpretation of Marxism is less well know 
it is no less serious for that. 13 Basically, it consists in applying' 
Marx the finalist, teleological schemas of the Hegelian dialectic 
Darwinian biology, Spenserian 'philosophy', and so on. We have 
an example of it in Plekhanov's interpretation of Marxist philos- 
ophy, and in the mechanistic, economistic, fatalistic interpreta- 
tion of historical materialism defended by certain theoreticians 
and leaders of the Second International. 'Marxist' evolutionism 
holds, for example, that the modes of production follow one 
another in an inevitable, immutable order: we find a trace of this 
in Stalin's famous list, contained in his short book Dialectical and 
Historical Materialism. Evolutionism also holds, like Hegelian 
idealism and all the philosophies of history (which, in this 
respect, are religious), that there is a 'meaning' to history, 
conceived as a finality governing it: we find traces of this in the 
formulas that effectively identify historical necessity with fatal- 
ity, speak of the inevitable triumph of socialism, and so on. 

'Marxist' evolutionism is incapable of accounting theoretically 
for the possibility and necessity of the political activity of tne 
Communist parties, for the possibility of the failures of tne 
workers' movement, and even for some of its successes, when- 
ever they are unexpected and paradoxical in the sense that the; 
fail to conform to its mechanistic schemas or the immutaD 
order of the modes of production (the Cuban revolution, u 
possibilities of revolution in the 'backward' countries, e K 
Evolutionism breeds technicist and economistic illusions a* 1 ^ 
political passivity; it systematically underestimates the adv 
sary's capacity to react; it underestimates the role of cla 
struggle, politics, ideology and philosophy in the class strugg 


nS j a ted into practice on a massive scale, it leads to 
iVttf 11 lt lS tastrophes, from which, moreover, it learns no 'les- 
hi> tof 'b nkruptcy of the Second International'), Lenin's polit- 
er' ^tice represents an exemplary struggle against 'Marxist' 
Seal p raC . m gut the struggle against evolutionism has not yet 
e vfll utl0 eC j openly in theory. And it is obvious that this struggle 
t * ef|VV be waged in theory for as long as the problem of the 
c -anfl0 I relations between Marx and Hegel has not been 
^fied and settled once and for all. 

clan ic j a moment ago that there is also a theoretical reason for 
ideological distortions of Marxism. What has long exposed 
notations of Marxism to the influence of empiricism, evo- 
rionism, or 'humanist' idealism from within the workers' 
movement itself is, from a theoretical standpoint, the unpre- 
cedented nature of the theoretical revolution carried out by Marx. 

If Marx himself experienced great theoretical difficulties in 
defining the philosophical categories required by his scientific 
discoveries, if he had to appeal to the existing philosophical 
categories, Hegel's, it is not surprising that, a fortiori, Marxist 
militants - and even excellent theoreticians - should have found 
themselves in the same predicament - or, rather, in a still more 
difficult one. If they have often put forward interpretations of 
Marxism contaminated by empiricism and evolutionism, and, 
today, by humanist ide dism, that is also because Marxist science 
needed a philosophy, whereas Marxist philosophy was not yet 
strong enough theoretically to settle accounts with the dominant 
philosophical ideologies and impose itself at the theoretical level 
b y dint of its rigour and systematicity. 
Today, we have gained sufficient perspective on all these 
tects to be able to understand their causes and measure their 

today, u we can and must say that it is not only the avowed 
v ersaries of Marxist theory (science and philosophy), the 
r 8 e °is ideologues, who loudly proclaim that it has contrib- 
th not ^g new, or is 'outmoded'; it is also its partisans, when 
e ^ rea d Marx's texts and 'interpret' Marxist theory through the 
bK-i ^ e d self-evident truths, those of the reigning ideological 

° take only three examples: Marxists who read and sponta- 
sl y interpret Marxist theory - without difficulties, scruples 


or hesitation - within the schemas of empiricism, ev 
or 'humanism' in fact declare that Marx contributed noth^^^h 
philosophy and, by implication, to science. These*? ^*o 
reduce the prodigious philosophical novelty of Marx' ***% 
to existing, ordinary, 'obvious' forms of thought - th . U ^t 
forms of the dominant philosophical ideology. I n orde ^' *° 
to perceive and grasp the revolutionary novelty f iu ^ 
philosophy and its scientific consequences, it is necessarv 1 **!^ 
to resist this ideological reduction, to combat thp h* . Cu % 

philosophical ideology that supports it, and to state what d * 
guishes the specificity of Marx's thought, what makes it r 
utionary not only in political practice, but also in theory. 

That is where the ultimate difficulty lies. For it is not easv 
break with the 'self-evident truths' of theoretical ideologies such 
as empiricism, evolutionism or 'humanism', which have domi- 
nated all of Western thought for two hundred years. It is riot 
easy to say that Marx was not an empiricist, that Marx was not 
Hegelian (Hegelianism is the 'rich man's' evolutionism) or evo- 
lutionist, that Marx was not theoretically 'humanist'; it is not 
easy to show positively how Marx, because he is not Hegelian, 
evolutionist, 'humanist' or 'empiricist', is something else entirely, 
something which must then be defined. And when one does try 
to show this, it is not easy to make people acknowledge and 
accept it, for the 'resistances' are extremely powerful. 

Marxist theory, because it is theoretically revolutionary, inevi- 
tably contains this fundamental difficulty. Unless we are to cede 
to the false 'self-evidence' of the dominant theoretical ideologies 
(whether by that we mean empiricism, evolutionism, humanism 
or other forms of idealism), and thus betray what is mos 
precious in Marx's thought - that is to say, what makes i 
theoretically revolutionary - we must confront this difnc 111 ™' 
and struggle against the ideologies that continually threa 
to suffocate, reduce and destroy Marxist thought. This ^ 
imaginary difficulty; it is an objective historical diffic^v' 
real in its way as the difficulties of revolutionary practice- 
earth, or the structure of society, does not rise on new 'foun 
tions' as easily as might be supposed; neither does the sys te 
bought. . 3 1 

We know that a revolution has to take place before the 
structure can 'rise on new foundations'. But, after the revel 


• long, arduous struggle must also be waged in 
e^ eitx * 'ideology/ to establish, consolidate and ensure the 
^litic 5 at ) ^ e neW society. The same goes for the system of 
[.jctoC °p Howing a theoretical revolution, another extremely 
*° U ^H arduous struggle is required in theory and ideology to 
long ^Y ^g new thought, gain recognition for it, and ensure its 
^ 5 especially if it is a form of thought that founds a new 
victory* philosophy serving as the basis for a new ideology I5h 

dentine theory of Marxism (philosophy, the science of history) is not 
" I cv An ideology is a distorted representation of reality: it is necessarily 
aJ i ideo k eC ause it is not an objective but a subjective representation of reality - 
^* l ° av for ^ e sa ^ e °^ Drev *ty' a soc > a l (class) representation of reality. Science, 
etUS ntrast, exists only on condition that it struggles against all forms of 
^b activity! class subjectivity included (consider Lenin's struggles against the 
* u igneous' ideology of the proletariat); science is objective. Science provides 
knowledge of reality independent of 'subjective' class interests. Ideology, in 
-ontrast, provides a representation of reality that is not knowledge in the strict 
sense of the term, since it is subordinate to class interests. 

We can nevertheless legitimately maintain that Marxism has 'produced a new 
ideology' in the working class, and that this ideology, even while remaining 
ideological in form (it does not have the form of a science), becomes increasingly 
scientific in content. We can legitimately talk about an ideology of a scientific 
character or, for the sake of brevity, a scientific ideology. 

But this new ideology is a transformation of the previous ideology of the 
working class. This transformation draws the ideology (moral, political, philo- 
sophical) of the working class towards a new content that is more scientific 
because it is increasingly informed by the scientific principles of Marxism - or, 
at any rate, by the results of Mar ist science and philosophy. 

This transformation is possible because Marxist thec*y, which is objective, 
oners the working class scientific knowledge of its interests, as well as the means 
realizing them, it is the scientific, objective character of Marxist theory that 
ows it to serve' the interests of the working class without being distorted by 
* subjective representation of these class interests. Thus it is the scientific 
^ectivity of Marxist theory which produces this historically utterly unprecedented 
. - the emergence of an ideology whose content has been transformed, an 

^y scientific ideology. 
ii\ a ideology of the working class, even if its content has been transformed 

c 0n ler »tihc direction, nevertheless remains an ideology as far as its form is 
taj^ th ^° r exam Pl e ' a transformed proletarian moral ideology continues to 
ideolo C m °^ a mora ^ Geology, and proletarian political and philosophical 

^p continues to take the form of ideology. 
furi cti ls because ideology has a form of its own, resulting from its social 
soci etv 'J rom tne fact that it constitutes one level of the superstructure of any 
COn stituf *^ e f orm °^ ideology necessarily subsists as one of the levels 

°* ideol Ue °* soc * et y' me ^ orm °f ideology reflects, precisely, this social function 
bec°min°^' wmcn distinguishes it from science. That is why, even if it is 
social 8 Incr easingly scientific, proletarian ideology, or the ideology of a 
society, can never be confused with science. That is why, if we assign 


and political practice. Prior to the success of this 1 

the revolution in society, like the revolution in tho u^fcfcl 

very great risk: that of being smothered by the old world rUn &* 

or indirectly, falling back under its sway. ' *'^, 

It will be understood why, even today, we have f 
real effort accurately to represent the theoretical r ^^ * 
accomplished by Marx in science and philosophy, a & ° **°n 
old ideologies that tend constantly to subject this revol • ** 
their own law - that is, to smother and destroy it. ° n *° 

The task of defending Marxist theory is, in the final an 
incumbent on Marxist philosophy. This defence involves an 7^' 
logical and, simultaneously, theoretical struggle against b ^ 
geois ideological tendencies both inside and outside Marxism^ 
this theoretical struggle is to be successful, we cannot contenf 
ourselves with denouncing and criticizing the hostile ideologies 
and ideological forms that exercise an influence over Marxism 
We must also - this is the absolute condition for theoretical 
victory - make Marxist theory an impregnable fortress. 

If we have an impregnable theoretical fortress at our disposal 
- that is to say, a rigorous, exact, systematic theory that is well 
and truly alive - we will have a powerful force of positive 
scientific demonstration, capable of sweeping away the fallacious 
arguments and concepts of the ideologies, and compelling rec- 
ognition for the plain truth. We will then be in a position to sally 
forth from our 'fortress' to attack our adversaries with our own 
weapons, on grounds of our own choosing. Ideological struggle 
will then become a natural consequence of theoretical strength- 
We will then be able to define a theoretical and ideological 
strategy and defeat our adversary, since we will no longer t# 
vulnerable to his initiatives, forced to 'follow him on to his own 
ground', and reduced to engaging in mere 'polemics'. WJe wiu 
have the ideological initiative, because we will have the requis 1 
theoretical strength. 

Let there be no mistake: the word 'fortress' is an image- » 
point is not to shut ourselves up in a stronghold: that would 
dogmatism. 16 The strength of Marxist philosophy consists 

~ • t theory 

these concepts a rigorous meaning, it is not possible to say that Marxist ^ 

as science is a 'scientific ideology' Marxist science is based not on a 's^ 1 

ideology', as is too often said, but, like any science, on a scientific theory 


living the problems before it, and investing its 

r oiisiy ; ^ e force of scientific - that is, irrefutable - proof. 

^luri 0115 w en gth consists in showing that it can rectify deficient 

^us its S make still vague concepts precise, and produce new 

c . rtf e P* s u ere they are lacking, in order to explore and conquer 

c0 rtf e P a j nS that belong to it by rights. Its strength consists in 

th^ t h e system of its concepts with a rigour that can find 

in vesn h .^ ^ ' orc ier of exposition' (Marx) comparable to that 

eX pre5^ Qjpjfai- the irrefutable order of a scientific proof. 

r ° Un olv as an indication of the fundamental problems that it is 

t for Marxist philosophy to explore, let me mention the 

UX f\ wing, ^e problem of the specificity of philosophy as 

nosed to science; the problem of the nature of theory; the 

oblem of practice and the specificity of the various practices 

(economic, political, theoretical); the problem of the specificity of 

the Marxist as opposed to the Hegelian dialectic; the problem of 

the Marxist conception of 'causality', the nature of ideology, and 

so on. Long arguments would be required to show in what sense 

each of these themes constitutes a still unsolved problem whose 

solution requires us to produce or rectify theoretical concepts. 1 

cannot undertake that task here.' But we can gain some sense of 

its importance and urgency from a rapid examination of just one 

problem, that of the union of theory and practice. 

This problem is central to Marxist philosophy and practice. 

Yet, to my knowledge, we do not possess a systematic, rigorous 

theory on this question, but have only a general orientation, 

mscribed in the classical thesis about the need for the union of 

eory an d practice and the primacy of practice. We also have a 

ew theoretical elements involving practice as the 'criterion of 

th Above all, we have a large number of political texts, by 

*» Lenin and other great leaders of the workers' movement, 

lc " sum up and critically assess a vast range of practical 

Faience in which the realization of the union of theory and 

^ ac tice is exemplified. All this is quite rich, but it does not yet 

itute a theory of the union of theory and practice. 
isnl COrrect general orientation does not make a theory; nor do 
p r ed dements, or even the richest imaginable records of 
ctical experience. 17 We need to think what exists 'in the 

W and RC, which touch on some of these themes. 


practical state 7 in the experience of scientific and n i* • 
tice. To do so, we need to produce the concepts t-K^ P r ^c^ 
demands, organizing them in a rigorous demonstrati ** rea ^ty 
This is an immense theoretical task; we can find a m S ^ ste *n. 
resource for it in the work Marx did in order to produc u ^ 
concepts and theoretical system of Capital. We will not nevv 
speaking, possess a true philosophical theory of the pr hi ^ 
the union of theory and practice until we have treated th' ^ °* 
philosophical problem with a rigour comparable to tk aSic 
Capital, nat °f 

Yet we saw, in the opening pages of this essay, the import 
that the correct conception of this problem has not onlv /* 
Marxist theory, but also for the practice of the revolutiona * 
Parties. On a more positive note, it can be said that, when thi 
theory has at last been established, we will be able to brine 
vastly increased theoretical power to bear in the struggle against 
bourgeois ideology (the number 1 strategic task for Marxist 
philosophy) and the rigorous, productive elaboration of the 
practical and theoretical problems falling within the purview of 
historical materialism. 

Let me sum up what I have said so far. The number 1 strategic 
task for Marxist philosophy is to become a true theory, in the 
strong sense, so that it can struggle and prevail against bourgeois 
ideology and its influence on the revolutionary workers' move- 
ment. Marxist philosophy cannot become the impregnable 'the- 
oretical fortress' that it must be unless it undergoes the kind of 
profound theoretical development needed to overcome the still 
extant lag between philosophy and Marxist science, and to 
endow philosophy with the conceptual precision and rigour, as 
well as the theoretical systematicity, that it still lacks, ft 
imperative that Marxist philosophers go to work with, first an 
foremost, this specific goal in mind. 

VL Strategic task number 2: 


If it carries out its number 1 task, Marxist philosophy ~ 

acquire the tools that can help it carry out strategic task nun* 



f the scientific disciplines that fall within the scope of 

M° st j ma terialism are, today, in great need of help from 

fti5t orlca philosophy: this holds not only for the disciplines 

Vla f * 15 ^ the 'Human Sciences', but also for certain regions of 

^Marxist science of history. 

1. Historical materialism 

too, I must be schematic; I will content myself with rapidly 

riniz iust a f ew examples in order to make myself understood. 

1 We have, in Capital, a theory of the capitalist mode of produc- 
tion - but we still have nothing comparable for the other modes 
f production, pre-capitalist or socialist (even if important work 
has been done here),' or for the phases of transition between 
these modes. k 

As far as the capitalist mode of production itself is concerned, 
if we possess an impressive conceptual system for thinking the 
reality of its economic level (Capital), we have no comparable 
theory for thinking the reality of its political and ideological 

As far as the political level is concerned, we do, it is true, have 
general theses on the state, the class struggle, and their develop- 
ment, [as well as] the concrete analyses found in a number of 
historical and political works; we also have analyses of the rich 
experience of the class strugg ] e (for example, all of Lenin's 
speeches and writings), and so on. But we have no rigorous, 
developed theory, in the strong sense of the word, of the nature 
social classes, the state and state power, the state apparatus 
'M reaucrac y> the various forms of the capitalist state, the 

oc of social forces in power', the Leninist distinction between 

c a ss and its representatives, and so forth. 

bee n rf Asiatic, slave, and feudal modes of production, important work has 
Fr anc ° ne * n the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Democratic Germany, 

th ere { vvev er, on the politically very important problem of transitional phases, 
capi ta . re som e remarkable texts about the first phases of the transition between 
tra nsi J Srn anc * socialism (Lenin and Bukharin). Yet the general theory of the 
Chan °^1 as vet to be worked out. Let us mention, in France, the work of 
dries Bettelheim. 


This theoretical lacuna is infinitely more striking- 
comes to the nature of ideologies: the relationship betvvee ^ it 
one hand, the ideological level and, on the other, the e ' ° n ^ 
and political levels; the difference between ideology and ^ 0tnic 
the double - social and theoretical - determination of th enc * ; 
ogies, and so on. If we had a theory of ideology and the n i- e °^ 
(the juridico-political superstructure) for, at least, the cao'i • 
mode of production, we could extend its concepts (transform- 
them in accordance with their object) to cover other mod ^ 
production; we would then have a theory of the political and hT 
ideological specific to these productive modes. But we are a In * 
way from possessing such theories. This lacuna has both theorem 
ical and political consequences. 

Historians, who work on the past (the slave-holding and 
feudal social formations, etc.), like the ethnographers and ethnol- 
ogists who are today working on primitive social formations 
suffer from the effects of this theoretical inadequacy in their own 
work. They encounter them in the form of problems involving 
the nature and role of the 'institutions' and ideologies of these 
social formations, or the determination of the dominant element 
in the dialectic of their history or 'non-history' 

Political leaders and parties, for their part, come up against 
the practical consequences of this theoretical deficiency. For the 
solution of important political and ideological problems in the 
construction of socialism and the transition to communism 
depends on the availability of theoretical knowledge about the 
state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the ideology 
of a socialist social formation. But we lack, precisely, a theory/ in 
the strict sense, of the political and the ideological in the socialist 
mode of production, and of the transitional phases between 
capitalism and socialism. 

This lack is still more conspicuous when it comes to the 
transition of pre-capitalist social formations to socialism. If we 
had a theory of the political and the ideological in pre-capita' lS 
modes of production, it would be easier to pose the problem o 
the state, the political Party, and the forms of political actio 
required to ensure the success of this transition. 

To mention one last, still controversial example: it is undout> 
edly because we lack a theory of the juridico-political an 
ideological superstructure that, concerning the phenomenon 



nnality cult' which arose within the superstructure of a 
tfie P^ rrT iation in the phase of the dictatorship of the prolet- 
^ have not produced anything more than hypotheses that 
3f * at more descriptive than theoretical, and therefore threaten 
3fC i k the solution of the problems involved. One simple 
to * among a dozen others will help to bring this fact 

■ of the many works of Soviet empirical sociology, virtually 
k° deals with the sociology of political or ideological social 

relations. 1 
At a still more abstract level, we still do not have, however 

orobable this may seem, a truly satisfying general theory of 

1 hat a mode of production is, although Capital gives us all we 

need to construct such a theory. In this connection, I will mention 

only one point, which has major consequences from a practical 

paint of view: it involves the concept of productive forces. The 

general concept certainly is available to us, but, as its very 

formulation suggests ('forces', in the plural), the term quite often 

stands for a mere empirical list: material resources and sources 

of energy, instruments of production, labour-power, and the 

'technical experience' of this labour-power. This was Stalin's 

definition of the term; to my knowledge, it has not been modified 

since. An empirical list, however, is not a concept, even if the 

expression 'productive forces', as it is currently formulated, does 

indeed designate one specific reality while distinguishing it from 

another, the relations of production. If we are truly to possess 

the concept of productive forces, we need something more: we 

need to discover and describe the specific relations which, for 

each mode of production ind each of its phases, organize the 

empirical elements on the list into organic unities that are 

specific and original." 1 It is obvious that if, in defining the 

Productive forces, we do not go beyond drawing up a simple 

quantitative list of their elements, we are highly likely to put the 

j^phasis, indiscriminately, on the technical element, and thus to 

pse into economism or its contemporary technicist variants, as 

e Second International did. 


Co Sociologie en URSS. Rapports des membres de la Delegation sovietique au 

8 ni s d'Evian, 1966, especially Ossipov's paper. 
22^ f , this point, see Balibar's important contribution to Reading Capital, RC 


If, on the other hand, we bring out the organic relan 
combine these elements in original wholes [unites] corres ^ *^t 
to the different modes of production and each of their k^S 
we can see that the dominant element can be displaced ? ^ 
be technology in the narrow sense (the instruments of r> ^ a ^ 
Hon), or the organization of labour (the forms of co-oper h C ~ 
or the technical level of the labour force which represent ^ 
dominant element in the specific original wholes constitute k 
essence of the productive forces in a particular case. tL 
distinctions are obviously important, because they determine tK 
type of action required to develop the productive forces in * 
given instance: depending on whether one should act on this n 
that constitutive element of the productive forces, because it i s 
in the prevailing conjuncture, the 'decisive link', the emphasis 
must be put on the economic (or on one or another aspect of it) 
the political, or the ideological 

At a still deeper level, we do not have a theory, in the strict 
sense, of either 'determination in the last instance by the economy' or 
the specific type of causality that governs the modalities of this 
determination, and so constitutes the articulation of the different 
levels of a mode of production (economic, political and ideologi- 
cal). We do not have a theory, in the strict sense, of the displace- 
ment of dominance among the various levels, within 
determination in the last instance by the economy. We do not 
have a theory to account for the variations of the conjuncture, 
although the everyday political practice of the Communist par- 
ties carefully takes these variations into account, and Lenin s 
writings (to cite only Lenin) constantly point to the displacement 
of dominance as that which defines the conjuncture, lHn 

Of course, the theoretical elaboration of all these questions is 
not the sole responsibility of Marxist philosophy, nor, in conse- 
quence, of the philosophers. It is, first and foremost, the task o 
the many different theoreticians working in the field of historic 
materialism: theoreticians of the economy and of politics, theo- 
reticians specializing in the ideologies, historians, and so on. * 

n This theory of the conjuncture, of the displacement of dominance am 
the various levels, etc, is directly relevant to the theory of the dialectic. The 
remarkable formulation we have of it may be found in Mao Zedong; 


t h£ hi 

f these theoreticians needs the help of Marxist philos- 
the vV ° r ec ially today. Here, too, I will give only one example. 
ophY' e v [ e v/, it is not an accident, nor even a circumstance due 

• n ' - ca i causes alone, that we still do not possess a true 
to ^ . t h e strict sense, of social classes, the political, or the 
^^ -il There are also theoretical reasons for this shortcoming; 
iiec °^ - te precise, philosophical reasons. 
t0 t t us g° back to what 1 said above about the lag between 

■i sophv and science in the case of a science that opens up a 
P continent' to knowledge (as Marx did). The 'need' for 
Vlosophy that the new science feels at a later stage in its 
a velopment does not have to do only with the attacks or 
deological philosophical deviations that threaten it; it is also, 
fundamentally, an inner need that the science perceives when it 
tries to overcome the theoretical limits it encounters in its own 
work and field. But some of these theoretical limits depend, in 
the final analysis, on the philosophical categories in which the 
science must think its new objects. For there comes a moment in 
the progress of a science when certain old philosophical categor- 
ies objectively constitute a theoretical obstacle to the solution of 
new problems. It is this properly philosophical obstacle which 
then stands in the way of the development of the science, by 
preventing it from solving certain precisely identifiable scientific 
problems. I am convinced that this has long been the case for the 
theory of social classes, the political and the ideological. 

In order to think the nature of a social class, it is indispensable 
to take conjointly into account the determination of the economic 
base, juridico-political superstructure, and ideological super- 
structure. It is also indisp >nsable to take into account the 'play' 
that occurs within this joint determination, in order to explain 
tt| e possible displacements of the dominant instance among these 
Afferent determinations." 

77 p? n * n ' s an d Marx's historical analyses (Lenin's great political texts, Marx's 
p ~*$"wif/i Brutnaire) clearly attest to the 'play' that makes displacements 
r e j S . We c an say that a social class is determined, in the last analysis, by the 
the ° ns °^ P r °ducrion - but it is simultaneously determined by the structure of 
0r P^tical and the ideological. It may or may not possess its own political 
to niXa ti° n ' or find its political 'representatives' among politicians who belong 
w rr j er c ^ ass (^r example, Napoleon II and the small peasants); in other 
Polit * ma y ^ e either present or absent in person in the struggle between 
classes, possess its own ideology or not, and so on. We must account 


In order to think, all at once, the conjunction of 
different determinations and the variations of their dorrT ^^ 
the classical philosophical category of 'causality' is inaden ai * Ce ' 
as is even the category of 'reciprocal causality' between 
and effect, or that of the 'resultant of forces' These mav ^ 
allow us to 'describe' phenomena, but they do not help 
think their mechanisms. On this precise point, it may be • 
that the classical concept of causality, even 'improved' with *k 
help of the concept of reciprocal causality or concepts borrow h 
from cybernetics, today constitutes a philosophical obstacle 
the solution of a scientific problem. This is why the theory of 
social classes, the class struggle, and so on, has now reached an 
impasse. p 

To remove this obstacle, we must endeavour to produce a 
new philosophical category capable of accounting for the speci- 
ficity of a dialectical reality that has been identified by Marxist 
science: the conjunction of different determinations on the same 
object, and the variations of the dominant among these determi- 
nations, within their very conjunction. 

I have, for my part, tried to take account of the existence of 
this problem, and sketch a theoretical solution to it, by proposing 
two new philosophical categories: 'structural causality' and 'over- 
determination'. 1 cannot analyse them in detail within the narrow 
confines of this essay .1 Let me merely indicate the general raison 
d'&tre for each of these categories. 

'Structural causality' is meant to draw attention to the fact 
that the classic philosophical category of causality (whether 
Cartesian linear causality or Leibnizian 'expressive 7 causality) is 
inadequate for thinking the scientific analyses of Capital a ncl 
must be replaced by a new category. To give some sense of this 
innovation, we can say that, in structural causality, we fl* 1 " 
something that resembles the problem (often invoked by biolo* 

theoretically for all these possible variations. The distinction between the cja 
in itself and the 'class for itself that we find in Tfie Poverty of Philosophy (I 84 
clearly designates one aspect of this problem, but is not yet the theory of it- 

pfhe fact that theory has reached an impasse does not always mean 
political practice also has. As we have seen, political practice can be in a< * va ha5 , 
of theory in certain cases. In other cases, however, the fact that theory 
reached an impasse also blocks or checks political practice. The theory ° 
possibility of these variations has yet to be developed. 

" See FM 87-116, 200-18; RC 29 ff., 182-93. 

r tf£ Hi' 1 


, the causality of the 'whole upon its parts', with the 
gS& e that the 'Marxist' whole is not a biological, organic 
0& e j. a complex structure that itself contains structured 
^ i */ the infrastructure, the superstructure). Structural causality 
te ve " tes the very particular causality of a structure upon its 
^ e nts, or of a structure upon another structure, or of the 

ture of the whole upon its structural levels. 
5 As for 'overdetermination', it designates one particular effect 
tructural causality - precisely the one I evoked a moment ago 
° connection with the theory of social classes: the conjunction of 
afferent determinations on the same object, and the variations in 
■ dominant element among these determinations within their 
very conjunction. To go back to the example of social classes: we 
mav say that they are overdetermined, since, in order to grasp 
their nature, we have to mobilize the structural causality of three 
'levels' of society, economic, political and ideological - with 
structural causality operating in the form of a conjunction of these 
three structural determinations on the same object, and in the 
variation of the dominant element within this conjunction. 

I do not claim that these formulations (structural causality, 
overdetermination) are satisfactory. They have to be tested, 
developed and rectified. My only claim is that they point to the 
existence of an undeniable philosophical problem that is of 
decisive strategic importance when it comes to removing the 
properly philosophical obstacle with which all true theories of 
social classes, class struggle, the political, and the ideological are 
confronted today. 

The theory of the nature of the ideological presents, moreover, 

a particular philosophical problem that has in fact prevented us 

from elaborating it to dati. It is not enough to say that ideology, 

°°' i s subject to 'structural causality' in order to account for its 

s Pecificity Nor is it enough to say that ideology represents the 

, ase °f the conjunction of two different determinations: one 

ay ing to do with cognition [connaissance] (which confers repre- 

,. National value upon the ideological), the other involving the 

v, sion of society into classes (which explains why ideological 

P r esentation is distorted \fausse]). We must also account for the 

a lity We are ca iii n g a 'distorted representation'; that is to say, 

^ust account for the paradoxical unity of a discourse that 

es something false [qui enonce le faux] even as it claims to 


In order to think, all at once, the conjunction of 
different determinations and the variations of their do ^^ 
the classical philosophical category of 'causality' is ir\ ac j U * a, * c *. 
as is even the category of 'reciprocal causality' betwee ^ 
and effect, or that of the 'resultant of forces'. These ma CaUS€ 
allow us to 'describe' phenomena, but they do not heln ^^ 
think their mechanisms. On this precise point, it may h f° 
that the classical concept of causality, even 'improved' with ^ 
help of the concept of reciprocal causality or concepts borro 
from cybernetics, today constitutes a philosophical obstacl 
the solution of a scientific problem. This is why the theory ^ 
social classes, the class struggle, and so on, has now reached a 
impasse. p 

To remove this obstacle, we must endeavour to produce a 
new philosophical category capable of accounting for the speci- 
ficity of a dialectical reality that has been identified by Marxist 
science: the conjunction of different determinations on the same 
object, and the variations of the dominant among these determi- 
nations, within their very conjunction. 

I have, for my part, tried to take account of the existence of 
this problem, and sketch a theoretical solution to it, by proposing 
two new philosophical categories: 'structural causality' and 'over- 
determination'. I cannot analyse them in detail within the narrow 
confines of this essays Let me merely indicate the general raison 
d'Hre for each of these categories. 

'Structural causality' is meant to draw attention to the fact 
that the classic philosophical category of causality (whether 
Cartesian linear causality or Leibnizian 'expressive' causality) is 
inadequate for thinking the scientific analyses of Capital, and 
must be replaced by a new category. To give some sense of tn^ 
innovation, we can say that, in structural causality, we fin 
something that resembles the problem (often invoked by bioio* 

theoretically for all these possible variations. The distinction between the 
in itself and the 'class for itself that we find in The Poverty of Philosophy (* 
clearly designates one aspect of this problem, but is not yet the theory or it- 

^The fact that theory has reached an impasse does not always mean 
political practice also has. As we have seen, political practice can be in a" ^ 
of theory in certain cases. In other cases, however, the fact that theory ^ 
reached an impasse also blocks or checks political practice. The theory 
possibility of these variations has yet to be developed. 

*i See FM 87-116, 200-18; RC 29 ff., 182-93. 

ftf£ H 


c the causality of the 'whole upon its parts', with the 
gj$ts) ° ^at the 'Marxist' whole is not a biological, organic 
^jffere n ^ complex structure that itself contains structured 
tfhoi e > j n f r astructure, the superstructure). Structural causality 
[e* e } s . t h e very particular causality of a structure upon its 

^ eS ts or °^ a structure u P on another structure, or of the 
^' elTl f the whole upon its structural levels. 
sirxx f or ' OV erdetermination', it designates one particular effect 
tructural causality - precisely the one I evoked a moment ago 
nnection with the theory of social classes: the conjunction of 
Afferent determinations on the same object and the variations in 
, dominant element among these determinations within their 

erv conjunction. To go back to the example of social classes: we 
mav say that they are overdetermined, since, in order to grasp 
their nature, we have to mobilize the structural causality of three 
levels' of society, economic, political and ideological - with 
structural causality operating in the form of a conjunction of these 
three structural determinations on the same object, and in the 
variation of the dominant element within this conjunction. 

I do not claim that these formulations (structural causality, 
overdetermination) are satisfactory. They have to be tested, 
developed and rectified. My only claim is that they point to the 
existence of an undeniable philosophical problem that is of 
decisive strategic importance when it comes to removing the 
properly philosophical obstacle with which all true theories of 
social classes, class struggle, the political, and the ideological are 
confronted today. 

The theory of the nature of the ideological presents, moreover, 
^particular philosophical problem that has in fact prevented us 

0m e laborating it to date. It is not enough to say that ideology, 
°°/ is subject to 'structural causality' in order to account for its 
P^cificity. Nor is it enough to say that ideology represents the 

^ of the conjunction of two different determinations: one 

Vlr >g to do with cognition [connaissance] (which confers repre- 
j. ational value upon the ideological), the other involving the 
sion of society into classes (which explains why ideological 
re 1 resen tation is distorted [fausse]). We must also account for the 
w l ty We are calling a 'distorted representation'; that is to say, 
st must account for the paradoxical unity of a discourse that 
s something false [qui enonce le faux] even as it claims to 


state the truth. It is not enough to invoke the old phii 
concept of error: it merely names the difficulty, without ^^1 
or solving the problem. Nor is it enough to say that this H ^°?^ 
of ideological discourse is a particular case of 'overdet ?ty 
tion'; we must also account for the fact that this overdete^^ 
tion is that of 'the true' and 'the false', by virtue of the fa ^ 
it exists within the specific object known as a 'discourse' 

Clearly, then, if we are to remove the theoretical obstacl 
is currently standing in the way of all theories of ideology ** 
have to bring into play not only the new philosophical cone e 
of 'structural causality' and 'overdetermination', but also wh 
we can call the theory of discourses, which will require contrib 
tions from structural linguistics if it is to emerge. This theory of 
discourses has not yet been born, and it cannot be elaborated 
without the help of philosophy. I do not pretend to be able to 
offer results here, either: it will be a long time before any appear 
I only claim to have posed a real, important problem. In so far 
as the solution of this problem concerns the Marxist science of 
the ideological instance of productive modes, any theory of 
ideology today requires the decisive intervention of Marxist 

2. The 'Human Sciences' 

What is true of the theoretical regions within historical material- 
ism is still more true of the disciplines known as the 'Human 

Ours is the age of the 'Human Sciences', which include, 
besides history and political economy, sociology, ethnology* 
demography, psychology, psycho-sociology, linguistics, and so 
on. Most of these disciplines have developed outside Marxist^ 
and it is blindingly obvious that they have been profound y 
marked, in their 'theory', 'methodology', and research , ^ ecn 
niques' - ultimately, in their object - by bourgeois ideology- 

The extensive methodological and technical apparatus tn 
these disciplines put to work is by no means proof of * 
scientific nature. It is well known that there can exist nig 
technical disciplines (utilizing, for example, mathematical tn 
ods) which are nevertheless 'sciences' without an object, or, u 


. nceS ' whose object is altogether different from the one 
Ijlces sC | re to be theirs. I cannot provide a detailed demon- 
tfiey £ t his here, but there are irrefutable reasons for main- 
s' 3 * 10 that as far as many of their subdivisions are concerned, 
fining ^ e 'Human Sciences' are not sciences which provide 
***'*** tical knowledge of a real object, but (highly elaborate) 
^ e ° T . s f social adaptation or readaptation. Psycho-sociology 
t in its entirety, as well as most of the work that has been 
in empirical sociology, contemporary political economy, 

d even in much of psychology fall into this category. 
311 At the practical level, one becomes aware of the imposture of 
these disciplines 'without an object' when one observes that they 

incapable of providing a rigorous, precise, unequivocal defi- 
nition of their object, and that, in practice, they all fight over an 
object' to which none can lay indisputable claim. It is common 
knowledge not only that the 'problems of the boundaries 1 separating 
political economy, sociology, psycho-sociology and psychology 
are highly controversial, but also that the disciplines in question 
are incapable of resolving them. When a 'science' endlessly 
disputes its 'object' with one or more neighbouring 'sciences', it 
is quite likely that what is at stake is the nature of this 'object' 
itself and, consequently, the nature of these would-be 'sciences' 
Indeed, within one and the same discipline (for example, politi- 
cal economy, sociology, psychology or psycho-sociology), disci- 
plines are proliferating before our very eyes (a good dozen 
disciplines exist within political economy, psychology, etc.)/ so 
that the 'problem of boundaries' is posed anew within political 
economy and sociology, psycho-sociology, psychology, and so 
°n. These divisions do not by any means correspond to a 
eoretical division of labour grounder in their object; they 

ect divergent conceptions of the same 'object'. 

can be shown that this disorder, this anarchy within 'sci- 

. Ces that often boast an impressive methodological and tech- 

Cal apparatus, ultimately stems from a basic ambiguity 

/ ^ r ° Un ding the putatively 'scientific' nature of these 'sciences' 

oft are °ft en mere 'techniques') and their 'object' (which is 

n not an object but an objective: social adaptation or 

the art .°* ^ e reason ^ or this ambiguity, no doubt, is the fact that 
disciplines are still young; in the last analysis, however, it 


is owing to their domination by not only bourgeois id 
also, and in some cases directly, bourgeois politics H °^but 
geois ideology which imposes on these 'sciences' the ci^ ^°^ 
ideological categories in which they set out to defi ^ 
'object', with the result that they miss their real objects* ^ e * r 
ultimately bourgeois politics and ideology which im D ! * ^ 
them the objectives that these sciences dependent on the bo ° n 
sie then spontaneously take for their 'objects' ^ eoi * 

This situation is extremely serious - not only for Marxist 
for all the scholars and technicians working in the field of i-k* 
existing 'Human Sciences'. Many scholars in the 'human •* 
ences' are uncomfortable with a practical and theoretical sih 
ation whose deplorable consequences they must put up with 
even in their day-to-day professional activity. More or less 
confusedly, they feel the need for a theoretical clarification that 
would free them from the contradictions and dependencies in 
which they live and work. 

But the greatest danger in the present situation is that Marx- 
ists themselves may be taken in by the deceptive prestige of 
these 'sciences', succumbing to them in the hope that they will 
provide knowledge that they do in fact need. With a few 
exceptions, the conclusion holds that to succumb to the existing 
'Human Sciences' today, without subjecting their theories, methods, 
techniques and, finally, their 'objects' to radical criticism, is in fact to 
succumb to one of the most dangerous (because least perceptible) fornts 
of bourgeois ideology. 

This danger is especially great today, when, after decades of 
isolation and stagnation in certain fields, communists feel the 
need to resolve certain problems posed 'by life'; in throwing 
themselves upon the 'Human Sciences' without taking the pre- 
caution of subjecting their foundations and methods to rigorous 
criticism, they risk falling prey to the illusion that they are 
'solving' their real problems, when the contemporary 'Hum 
Sciences' in fact often represent the chief obstacle to tn 


To get to the bottom of the matter, we must, rather, cotne 
understand that most of the Human Sciences, although n\J 
have developed outside Marxism, fall in principle under* 
jurisdiction of Marxist theory. Political economy, sociology . 
'social psychology', and even, for the most part, what is c a 


rH £ HI5 

I £V/ can ex * st or ^y on *^ e *h eore ti ca ' basis of the 
'P^' \ s of historical materialism. All these disciplines are 
prtf cl P re eions of the new 'continent' (the history of human 
sitnp v anC j t h e i r effects on the individuals subjected to their 
^ e res) opened up to knowledge by the new science founded 

$trl \/farx< Only on condition that these regional sciences are 
W ^ where they belong, in this 'continent', can they be 
5itu ec j their true object (as opposed to a mere objective), a 

ect [juste] theory of this object and the appropriate [correcte] 
C ° thodology corresponding to it. It is on this condition that it 
f 11 become possible to put an end to the 'border conflicts' 
aging both within and between contemporary disciplines. 

There is every reason to believe that this labour of critical 
transformation and foundation will produce significant results, 
some of which will constitute real discoveries. By dint of this 
labour, Marxist theoreticians will overcome the backwardness 
that has left historical materialism lagging behind in areas of 19 
research which, for the most part, depend on its own principles. 
They will take back entire regions occupied by by-products of 
bourgeois ideology, for the greater good of Marxist theory and 
politics. This reconquest of what rightfully belongs to historical 
materialism represents a major form of struggle against bour- 
geois ideology. 

Of course, we cannot promote criticism and thoroughgoing 
reorganization of the 'Human Sciences' by straightforward 'appli- 
cation of or, a fortiori, 'deduction from' the principles of historical 
Materialism. Quite the contrary: we will arrive at this result only 
at ™ c °st of a major effort of criticism, research, and theoretical 
production. We need to work on both existing Marxist method 
n d the Human Sciences in their present state; in a word, we 
^d to make use of all the theoretical resources z.nd empirical 
Material at our disposal. We must also learn to discern, 
° n g the existing Human Sciences, those that already provide 
eoretical guarantees strong enough to justify the affirmation 
a ? ^ e y possess an object their title to which is not disputed by 
n . 0s f °f other disciplines: for example, linguistics and psychoa- 
of rtf 1S ^S ain ' we will have to undertake a critical examination 
ne present state of the last-named disciplines 20 ' in order to 

particular, it is crucial that we free Freud's discovery from all the idealist 


determine how far they have developed and, finally, t ,, 
what they contain that might be of use as a theoretical r lSce ^ 
for solving some of the problems thrown up by other disc"r I, °* 
It follows that historical materialism cannot accomplish th ^ 
alone: it will need the help of dialectical materialism, wh* u 
indispensable not only for criticizing the effects of bour ! S 
ideology in the field of the 'human sciences', but also for r ^ 
nizing the positive results achieved by some of them, and P 
redefining the theoretical regions of the 'continent' that M ° r 
opened up to knowledge. 

The reader will have understood that, in setting out th' 
programme, I am by no means calling for a return to 'dogma- 
tism' The point is not that all problems have been solved in 
advance by Marxist theory, so that we can 'retreat' back to Marx 
There do indeed exist new problems about which Marx said 
nothing; new disciplines, such as linguistics and psychoanalysis, 
founded since Marx's time, have begun to broach them. These 
regions do not belong either directly or exclusively to historical 
materialism; they also seem to belong, at least in part, to other 
'continents', or perhaps to one other 'continent': the question 
remains open. On the other hand, in all the regions that belong 
to historical materialism, Marxism has things to say. It can say 
them only if it sets out from Marx, the true Marx, in order to 
progress, and in order to become the strategic centre of, and the 
general theory on which, research in the Human Sciences 

If Marxism remains open to all that is new and authentically 
scientific, open to all real problems, while at the same time 
remaining constantly alert to the danger represented by the 
temptations and traps of bourgeois ideology and its effects/ w 

bourgeois ideology under which it has been buried, not only in the United Sta*^ 
but also in Europe, rigorously distinguishing its object from the 'object 
psychology. Psychoanalysis is not a psychology or a branch of psychology* 
specific object is not behaviour or the 'personality', but the unconscious an d 
effects. A great deal of work must be carried out in order to give Fr eU 
discovery the scientific form that it calls for. This task has been undertaken ; 
researchers working, above all, under the impetus provided by the ctuvf 
Lacan, who, setting out alone, was the first to open up this path. M&* 
linguistics also raises critical problems of the same kind, but it exists, and n 
real object: it has produced remarkable results (the Soviet school Danish sen 
American and French schools, etc.). 



it itself of this historical task, whose theoretical and 
L*a n l _- and, therefore, political - importance is obvious. But, 
pr^ ct \ c t0 accomplish it, Marxists have to stick to the positions 
in ° r . gt theory, without retreating behind Marx into bourgeois 
of ^ b OU rgeois idealist ideologies, as is all too often the case 
° r -h those of them who go hunting for the solution to the 
blems °f ^e twentieth Century' 21 in the works of the early 

To develop historical materialism while reconquering and 

reanizing, on the right theoretical bases, the disciplines occu- 

f ins the field of the 'Human Sciences': this strategic task number 

y i0( [ a y depends, in the last analysis, on the progress of Marxist 

philosophy > that is to say, on strategic task number 1. 

VII. Conclusion: philosophy and politics 

In conclusion, I would like to reply to a final objection that my 
readers may bring up. 

In spite of all the explanations I have provided, and even the 
arguments and examples of Marx, Engels and Lenin, the reader 
may have the impression that the emphasis I have put on 
philosophy's decisive role in the present conjuncture threatens 
to compromise the grand principle of the primacy of practice 
and the primacy of politics. 

To meet this objection, we need to go back to the Marxist 
conception of the union of theory and practice. For it is in the 
context of the union of theory and practice that it becomes 
possible to resolve the contradiction, apparent or real, between 
neory or philosophy on the one hand and practice or politics on 
th e other. 

'he union of theory and practice implies that every political 
Practice contains a philosophy, while every philosophy contains 

Practical signification, a politics. That is why it is essential, 
, der certain circumstances, to go all the way back to philosoph- 

al Principles in order to combat the ideological distortions of 
^ jl tical practice, and why it may be crucial under other circum- 

ances - not only for the Marxist science of history, but also for 

e Practice of the revolutionary parties - to rectify and develop 


existing philosophy. It is the way the union of fk 
practice is realized, the distortions of which it is the 1 ^ ^ct 
threats that hang over it, and the theoretical needs th S ' ^ 
when the attempt is made to solve the problems f ar ^ 
(whether scientific or political) which require us to ^^ 
emphasis on either politics or theory, depending on the • ^ e 
stances, and, within theory, on either historical or dial ^^ 

materialism. For the reasons that I have verv nnl^i.. ^^Kai 

materialism. For the reasons that I have very rapidly set 

requires that we put the emphasis on Marxist philosophy. " e ' 

think it is clear that the present theoretical conjuncture 
sidered against the background of the general conjunch° n 

But we must go further still. The union of theory and pracK 
must also appear within Marxist theory (the articulated ensem 
ble of Marxist science and Marxist philosophy), and even within 
Marxist philosophy itself. To make my meaning absolutely clear 
I would say that the primacy of politics must be expressed in 
forms that are specific to Marxist theory, and that it is by 
definition the responsibility of philosophy to ensure the primacy of 
politics in theory. 

It is not enough to say that the primacy of politics is ensured 
by the fact that every philosophy contains a practical significa- 
tion and a politics. Of course, this politics must first be correct. 
But the primacy of politics in theory has also to be realized in 
theoretical forms; politics must, in short, have precise, perceptible 
consequences within theory itself. The primacy of politics mani- 
fests itself in theory in two essential forms, both of which depend 
on philosophy. 

1. The primacy of politics is manifested, first, in the call to 
the kind of theoretical politics defined in Part II of this essay. Both 
knowledge supplied by historical materialism (analysis or 
ideological and political conjuncture) and also the direct in 
vention of dialectical materialism are required to define 
theoretical politics. For only dialectical materialism can iden 
the deviations that have to be fought, the errors that have to 
corrected, the theoretical needs that have to be satisfied, an 
deficiencies in the theoretical domain that have to be made g , 
Only dialectical materialism can define a theoretical strategy 
tactics, and establish theoretical objectives in a hierarchical 


ts the imperatives of the theoretical conjuncture (task 
th** 1 task number 2, etc.). 

primacy of politics in theory appears directly and 
2- } . in th e nature of Marxist philosophy itself. 

^ SlS rasp tf" s ' ^ on 'y ^ P r i nc ipl e / we nee( ^ to sa y something 

the great theoretical problem at stake in this thesis: the 

at> °hi m of the specificity of Marxist philosophy, the problem of 

P r0 yffc re nce between science and philosophy. Even when we 

nd that philosophy exhibit the formal characteristics of a 

nee - precision, conceptual rigour and demonstrative syste- 

ticity - we have to affirm, at the same time, that it is not a 
• ence. What radically distinguishes philosophy from the sciences, the 
'•-ience of history included, is the internal, intimate, organic relation 
\M philosophy maintains with politics. 

The Marxist science of history, like any other science, stands 
in an external relation to politics. Political conditions are part of 
the ensemble of objective social conditions that condition both 
the existence of the sciences and their development. These polit- 
ical conditions also appear in a particular form: that of the 
ideologies which constantly besiege all the sciences, acting on 
them from the outside while seeking to take advantage of the 
philosophical difficulties internal to their theoretical practice. In 
so far as they give expression to the balance of forces in the class 
struggle, the ideologies refer us to the science of the class struggle, 
which is part of the Marxist science of history. In so far as these 
ideologies state philosophical theses, represent philosophical 
tendencies, and exploit the difficulties that the sciences encounter 
ln ™ir theoretical practice, they refer us to the Marxist philos- 
Pty that can provide an understanding and a critique of them. 
. |hus that which, in the political intervention of the ideologies, 

internal to the sciences pertains to philosophy, not to the 
id er ) Ces themselves. To the extent to which the interference of 
u , ° °SV in the life of the sciences does not involve philosophy, 
p lnter ference may be considered external to the sciences; it is 
d e I *^ e °bjective social conditions for the existence and 
the °P rnen * °f ^e sciences, but it is not part of what constitutes 
. c ientificity of the sciences. This conclusion holds for all the 

hie/ COns tituted sciences, and thus for the Marxist science of 
n,St °r y as well. 


But it will be objected that the Marxist science 
should not be so hastily conflated with the other . °*V 
mathematics, the natural sciences, and so on. For the SCletlc *$: 
culty, it will be said, lies in the fact that the objects # ^^ 
sciences have nothing to do with politics, whereas the lu ^^ 
science of history takes politics as its object, and conse dD ^ st 
stands, as a science, in an intimate relation with politics ^^ 

This argument is important, but wide of the mark. To refi 
it is not enough to say that the Marxist science of historv f*L eit ' 

igh to say that the Marxist science of history tak 
only politics (the class struggle), but other objects ** 
well: the political (the juridico-political superstructure, that 

its object not only politics (the class struggle), but other object* 
well: the political (the juridico-political superstructure, that ^ 
law [le droit] and the state), the economic, the ideological, th * 

articulation in the various modes of production, the combinatio 
of several modes of production in concrete social formations, and 
so on. In other words, it is not enough to say that politics is only 
one object of Marxist science among others. One must also show 
that the fact that Marxist science takes politics as one object 
among others clearly distinguishes Marxist science from the other 
sciences, but does not affect, internally and intimately, its scien- 
tific character as such, that is, the scientificity of this science. 

The relationship of the science of history to politics is, in 
principle, identical to the relationship that any science has to its 
object. This relationship is one of scientific objectivity, and con- 
cerns the general forms of the scientificity of any science, the fact 
that a science can produce knowledge of its specific object only 
by mobilizing a theory and a method in a determinate theoretical 
practice; this includes, in certain cases, an experimental practice 
(the political practice of the Communist parties is part of the 
theoretical practice of Marxist science, on condition that it is 
treated scientifically). The nature of the object of a science only 
determines certain forms of this relationship of objectivity, bu 
not this relationship itself, which is the same no matter wna 
object a science studies. 

To bring out the objectivity of this relationship - that is, 
fact that it is independent of the specific nature of any particut 
object - we may say that the specific properties of the object 
not affect scientific knowledge of it. Spinoza observed that 
concept of a dog does not bark; similarly, we might say that 
concept of sugar is not sweet, that the knowledge of atoms is 
atomic, that the knowledge of life is not 'a living thing'/ that 


i history is not 'historical', and so on. In the same way, 
tciefl ce ° sa jd that the science of politics is not political. This is 
i* ^ f expressing the fact that the qualitative nature of the 
* ^ f a science does not affect - internally, intimately, organ- 
o\>) eC * .u e intrinsic nature of a science, which is its scientificity. 
ic^l'y ~ or ideology' is therefore not the determining principle 
^^Marxist history of science qua sciences 

ru point is crucial Yet it is not always clearly understood by those 

k philosophers included, who work in the disciplines that come under 

^ arXl sdiction of historical materialism, such as political economy, sociology, 

^ e 'rv etc This can be seen in the papers on the problem of the relations 

^ °een sociology and 'ideology' delivered by the Soviet participants in the 1966 

reference at Evian (see the papers by Konstantinov, Kelle and Chesnikov). 

The Soviet participants' thesis is that sociology cannot do without ideology - 

ot onlv because it must, like any science, struggle against ideology with the 

help of philosophy, but also because there is, so the argument runs, a close, 

organic link between sociology and 'ideology' by virtue of the very special nature 

of the object of sociology and the situation of the sociologist. This is said to 

distinguish sociology and the other social sciences from the natural sciences. The 

object of the natural sciences is the different modes of existence of matter; the 

natural scientist remains external to his object, is not conditioned by his object, is 

not an organic part of his object. In the social sciences, the Soviets argue, the 

situation is fundamentally different: the object of these sciences is not matter, but 

human societies and the different modes of human existence. The sociologist is 

himself determined by the object he studies, human society; he is an organic part 

of his object, is engaged in social struggles and the transformation of society, and 

must, ideologically, take sides. For all these reasons, it is claimed, there is an 

intimate link between sociology (the social sciences) and ideology. 

The Soviet participants cite, in support of their thesis, arguments that certain 

American sociologists use against others who advocate the 'de-ideologization' of 

in fact, the Soviet participants use the same concept, the concept of ideology, 
to designate three fundamentally different realities: 

the ideological theory that serves as the basis for bourgeois sociology (here 
ideology means 'a representation that is false' because subjective class 
interests have made it false); 

the scientific theory on which a scientific sociology should be based; here 
the term 'ideology', to which the Soviets append the term 'scientific', 
simply designates the scientific theory that serves as the basis for a science; 
the philosophical theory of dialectical materialism (they use the term 
ideology' to designate this third theory as well). 

obi *" eore tical method rules out the use of a single concept to designate three 
amu- 1Ve 'y distinct realities, for this inevitably sows confusion and leads to 
am ^ities. 

id e , e * erm ideology' tout court is appropriate when what is in question is the 

cW °& lca l (false) theory of bourgeois sociology. In this case it adequately 

Spates its object. Ideology (or politics) is clearly an organic part of philos- 


It is a very different matter when it comes to nUi 
Politics is naturally part of the objective social condition f^^. 
existence and development of philosophy, and politics ° r ^ 
form of ideologies, also acts on philosophy - but politics c ^ ^ e 
philosophy in a wholly different sense, because if is org ert)& 
and intimately bound up with the nature of philosophy qua phil ^'^ 
It is philosophy's intimate, organic relationship with politic tu 
distinguishes it from all the sciences- a * 

One can form a schematic idea of the specific nature 
philosophy as opposed to all the sciences by noting, for examr>l 
that it does not take as its object, as all the sciences do, a reei ' 
of reality, or even the whole set of regions comprising a 'conti 
nent' of reality, in the sense I gave that word earlier. Quite the 
contrary: philosophy takes as its object what is traditionally, and 
improperly, called the 'totality' of the real To put it more 
precisely, and to escape the religious-dogmatic effects of the 
concept of 'totality', let me say that philosophy takes as its object 
the tendential law of the transformation of a complex ensemble 

ophy, but the concept of ideology does not suffice, precisely, to define Marxist 
philosophy. Marxist philosophy is not an ideological theory in the sense in which 
bourgeois sociology is based on an ideological theory. 

The term 'ideology' is, on the other hand, an altogether inadequate designa- 
tion for the theory of a science. 

By using three distinct concepts to designate these three distinct realities - 
ideological theory, scientific theory, and philosophical theory - we avoid ambi- 
guity and confusion. Moreover, we do away with the distinction that is the 
source of this [confusion]: the distinction that the Soviet participants draw 
between the natural and the social sciences on the grounds that they are sciences 
of different kinds. 

To be frank, I think that this distinction represents a return - doubtless in 
attenuated form, but undeniably a return - to a distinction that idealist bourgeois 
philosophical ideology draws between the object of the natural sciences and tna 
of the human sciences. For bourgeois ideology, only the natural sciences are 
sciences in the strict sense; the 'human' or 'social' sciences are not true science » 
because they derive from philosophy and treat of man. Marx's whole scienti 
ceuvre is a refutation of this characteristic distinction of bourgeois ideology. M^ 
says again and again that Capital is a scientific, not an ideological work, whatev 
meaning one may assign the term - even if the term 'ideology' were, in this ca ' 
to designate Marxist philosophy. For we know, thanks to Marx, Engels »* 
Lenin, that Marxist philosophy is by its nature distinct from the science 
history. Like any science, the science of history, and therefore Marxist sociology 
as well, need philosophy. However, it is as a science that the science of nis ^-i 
needs philosophy: the science of history is distinct from philosophy- 
confusion is a confusion that is typical of the bourgeois ideology of science. 


j 5 V the articulation of two great systems that are 

^nsti . s internally complex and articulated: 

i St- * 

, -ystetn of theoretical practices, or the system of the regions 

1 d continents explored by scientific knowledge: in other 

ords, the system of the sciences, in their relation to the 

"deologies, which they must combat in order to exist and 


the system of the different social practices (economic, political, 22 
and ideological) which condition the existence, practice, 
an d development of the sciences. 

The nature of this complex ensemble and the tendential law of 
transformation governing it constitute the specific object of phil- 
osophy This is the object of which philosophy provides knowl- 
edge [savoir] in the form of philosophical knowledges 
[connaissances]: the philosophical categories, which are distinct 
from all possible scientific concepts (the categories of materialism 
and the dialectic, together with all the categories subordinate to 
these two major, basic categories). 

When we talk about this complex ensemble, we do not 
exclude philosophy: at every moment in the transformation of 
this ensemble, the existing philosophy itself also features in it - 
in the system of theoretical practices. 

In stipulating that philosophy takes as its object not only the 

nature of this complex ensemble but also the tendential law of 

transformation governing it, we are not merely adding a detail; 

w e are stating an essential thesis: namely, that this ensemble is 

ca ught up in a process of development, with the result that 

historical events, in the full sense of the word, occur there, 

a "ecting sometimes the first system, at other times the second, 

an d at still others the link between them, etc. We thus affirm 

J* a t knowledge [connaissance] of this ensemble is knowledge of 

le ,tist orical law governing it, 

*° produce knowledge of this ensemble, then, philosophy 

nnot just draw up a balance sheet a cannot be a mere 

cyclopaedia, as certain of Engels's formulations might lead us 

. "ink, a summa of the scientific knowledges [connaissances] 

isting at a given moment, even if these knowledges are con- 

'd 6 ^ * n terms °f the laws of the dialectic, 
hilosophy has to take into consideration the fact that it, too, 


is included in this summa, included in the guise of an arn 
of intervention within this ensemble. It must reco Ve '° r c% 
significance of its own presence in any possible s«w%V? *he 
that the presence of philosophy in any summa of • ^ 
knowledge is the proof in actu of the unstable - that is h" l6n ^ c 
and dialectical - nature of this state of the sciences, of °**?^ 
philosophy can speak only by intervening in it, by tak' ^ 
active part in it - that is, in the broad sense of the term ^ 
intervening in it politically. ' V 

To say that philosophy has to provide us knowledge of fk 
tendential law governing the transformation of the com I * 
ensemble that comprises its object, and to observe that phik*. 
ophy itself makes up part of the ensemble of which it must 
provide knowledge, is therefore to say one and the same thine 
It is to say that this complex ensemble cannot be the object of an 
Absolute Knowledge; that philosophy cannot be the Science of the 
sciences; that the law of the transformation of this complex 
ensemble is never given in advance, but has to be deciphered step 
by step. 

This is the point at which politics intervenes directly in 
philosophy, and in decisive fashion. Not only because the exist- 
ence of politics has always, in whatever form it takes, come 
down to intervening actively in the complex ensemble that 
constitutes its own object, or because this intervention can be 
termed, in the broad sense, a political intervention; but also 
because it is politics in the narrow, strict sense of the term that 
constitutes, as the pertinent index par excellence, the starting point 
from which it becomes possible, at the practical level, to under- 
take this deciphering. There are two reasons for this; they have 
to do with the privileged position that politics occupies in each 
of the two systems whose complex ensemble comprises trie 
specific object of philosophy. 

1. The system of social practices (economic, political an 

Politics is indeed, as Marx, Engels, Lenin, and all the lead 
of the Marxist workers' movement repeatedly observed, a sU 
marxf or 'digest' of all the social practices. The state of the cl 
struggle provides, in the form of a 'summary', a theoretical an 
practical view of the state of the relations between the practi 


A'tion the system of the sciences, its current existence, 
tfr at ^development However, the role of pertinent index that 
and j* 5 j a y S in the system of social practices does not, in this 
pities r m philosophy as such, because politics in this sense 
fat 1 **' kj ec t of the Marxist science of history. What directly 
is ^ s philosophy is the articulation of the system of theoreti- 
c ° nC ctices with the system of social practices. It is at this 
e point that philosophy is, in the strong sense, the pertinent 
P r *j f or the deciphering of the tendential law of transformation 
* verning this complex ensemble, 

2 The system of theoretical practices (science, philosophy, 

Here, politics is directly present in the form of the ideologies. It 

is in the ideologies that the class struggle figures in person in the 

conjuncture of the theoretical system. The ideologies are, in the 

theoretical conjuncture, the form in which the class struggle, and 

therefore politics, intervenes in the theoretical system. There can 

be no sciences and no philosophy that do not take up a position 

vis-cl-vis the ideologies, that do not stage theoretical (scientific 

and philosophical) counter-interventions against the ideologies. 

Consequently, the state of the ideological struggle in the domain of 

the theoretical system is the basic pertinent index from which one 

can set out to decipher not only the state of the theoretical 

conjuncture, but also - and this is determinant - the relationship 

between the theoretical system and the social system, which 

represents the tendential form of the articulation between the 

^o systems. 

Thus ideology enjoys a very special sort of privilege that allows it to 

P™y the role of pertinent index. It can play this role because it 

tjelongs to the two systems at the same time: as an expression of 

ne class struggle, it belongs to the system of the social practices; 

ut it belongs to the system of the theoretical practices in so far 

s this expression of the class struggle takes tht form of theoretical 

Oologies comprising an organic part of the system where the 
fences and philosophy reside; these can exist only on condition 

at they define themselves in contradistinction to the ideologies, 
n l^°nstantly combat them. 

hus politics, in the form of politics in the proper sense of the 
r d, and also in the form of its ideological expression, is the 


pertinent index par excellence when it comes to deciph 
tendential law governing the complex ensemble, becaus ^^ ** 
index of the state of the articulation between the tw is *he 
Hence philosophy must above all be guided by pol^^ 8 - 
attempting to decipher this tendential law, which fa CS ^ 
specific object. When philosophy takes politics into acco ^ 

posing its own problems, it truly takes its own obiecf ^ 
account. It can thereby ensure - in its own domain, wh' 1?*° 
philosophical, and in the philosophical mode (utilizing a ri ^ 
ous theory and a method of a scientific kind) - the primacv * 
politics. It does not have to respect the primacy of politics f 
reasons stemming from the nature of politics, but for reason 
stemming from its own, philosophical, nature. 

Ultimately, we find that which distinguishes philosophy from 
all sciences whatsoever here. No science concerns itself, as sci- 
ence, with the articulation of the two systems (the system of 
social practices and the system of theoretical practices) and the 
tendential law governing it; indeed, no science concerns itself 
with the state of the theoretical system as a whole. That is not 
the object of any science, whether it be mathematics, physics, 
biology, or even the science of history. It is, however, the specific 
object of philosophy. This is because philosophy is directly 
concerned with politics, by virtue of its nature, theory (material- 
ism), method (the dialectic) and categories. 

I am not putting forward unprecedented theses. It is Lenin's 
extraordinary philosophical merit to have understood this, and 
to have stated it with astounding clarity and boldness in Materi- 
alism and Empirio-criticism. 2 * No doubt we do not find a theory 
developed from this hypothesis in Lenin, but we do find in him 
proof that he considered this thesis to be absolutely essential to 
Marxist theory. It is enough to recall the insistence with wlucn 
he proclaimed that 'partisanship' in politics is an intimate part ° 
any philosophy, and that this partisan position must become, t° 
communist philosophers, a conscious taking of sides, based o 
rigorous theory of philosophy and its relationship to politics. 

Consequently, to say that the development of Marxist phi* 
ophy is a task which, objectively, has priority in the prevail o 
conjuncture is not to contradict the principle of the primacy 
the political. We contend, on the contrary, that philosophy * 
is to be a truly Marxist philosophy, must be approached 


vvith its own peculiar nature, which is political. The 
tft° T f philosophy today is therefore the contemporary form 
or iifl aC ^.^acv of the class struggle at the heart of the political 

P n L primacy 

re of phUo^r*v 

n must straight away point out the very great difficulties 

ks associated with this task. Of course, the thesis of the 

' il nature of philosophy is, as it must be, quite the opposite of a 

natic thesis. For centuries, philosophy was the 'handmaid of 

^Mon'/ anc * m * € S u ^ se °f niodern idealism, still is today. 

tu re can be no question whatsoever of perpetuating this idealist 

dition by making philosophy the 'handmaid of polities', even 
f what is involved is correct politics; that is to say, there can be 

question of reducing philosophy to the rank of a commentary 
on the political decisions of the day, or even of a correct political 
line. That would be to make philosophy a political ideology, and 
to reduce it to the existing political ideology. Political ideology has 
its rights: it is indispensable to the political struggle. But philos- 
ophy is not a political ideology. It is a discipline which, at the 
theoretical level, is absolutely distinct from political ideology, 
and it has the autonomy of a discipline of a scientific character; 24 
its development is subject to specific imperatives - precision, 
conceptual rigour and demonstrative systematicity. It meets a 
requirement that is fundamental to any theoretical discipline of 
a scientific character, which must provide the knowledge of its 
object in person, not of another object that is not its own. The 
object of philosophy is not politics, but philosophy is political by 
nature. Philosophy cannot be faithful to its own object and nature 
unless it thinks its object (the tendential law governing the 
ar ticulation of the complex ensemble of social practices/ theoret- 
ical practices) philosophically, and assumes its nature philosoph- 
ically- that is, unless it ensures the primacy of the class struggle 

nn philosophy itself, in forms that are rigorously and specifically 
m °$ophicQl. 

Without a twofold awareness of (1) the primac/ of the politi- 
th m Philosophy itself; and (2) the specifically philosophical 
ic i? re ^ ca ' requirements that this primacy be treated philosoph- 
/ , Y' Marxist philosophers run the risk of lapsing into either 
heoreticism, which completely ignores the class struggle; or 
P ra gmatism, which completely ignores the specificity of the- 
y a nd philosophy, as well as its scientific requirements. 


To develop Marxist philosophy is therefore an 
arduous task, because it requires a very high level of en ^ e 'y 
consciousness in philosophical work: it requires that one ^ 
philosophically, in philosophy, the primacy of the class srn S ^ ct 
while avoiding the pitfalls of theoreticism on the one hand^ e ' 
pragmatism on the other. ar *d 

That the tasks of Marxist philosophy are demanding 
at they call for deep awareness of the class struggle and ^' 
effects, great critical lucidity, great scientific sureness of to if 

years of hard study, reflection and analysis, and unyield" 
rigour combined with the greatest possible theoretical inventiv ^ 
ness and audacity - none of this can intimidate us; on th 
contrary, it shows us what we have to do. Any political 25 activist 
who has an experience of scientific practice in one capacity or 
another, a political capacity included, 26 is aware of this challenge 
and of the necessity and fecundity of this task. Marxist philosc^ 
phers must meet the same challenge, if they wish to produce a 
Marxist philosophy equal to its historical task in the present 

They would do well to recall Marx's words: 'at the entrance 
to science as at the entrance to hell . . .', where 'every beginning 
is difficult', one must, as Dante says, 'abandon all suspicion and 
fearV We can make no 'concession to the prejudice of public 
opinion', but must 'welcome every judgement based on scientific 
criticism'. u They would also do well to remember Lenin's phrase: 
'Marx's theory is all-powerful because it is trueV 


1. 'SRC 10. 

2. TRW 21. 

3. Vladislav Lektorsky (editor-in-chief of Voprosy filosofi), personal com- 
munication, 25 June 2002. he 

4. The last eight words are contained in the typescript from w ^ -a^ 
proofs were set (hereafter 'the typescript'), but not in the proofs. 

1 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), 

u Preface to Capital (1867). . 

' "The Three Sources and the Three Component Parts of Marxism' (19* J "' 



ilar omissions are doubtless due to oversights on the typesetter's 
pa 1 ^ ^ s 'the new science' are contained in the typescript but not in 

^ h proofs, this sentence is followed by another that is absent from 
^ ^ H/oescript and probably extraneous: 'It puts these existing theoretical 

^ hilosophical elements to work/ 

° r !h the proofs and the typescript read 'Marx's relationship to Engels'. 
7 lP. anC j the following paragraph represent a late intercalation in the 


Aithusser substituted the words 'scientific concepts and philosophical 

^ tegories' for concepts' in a handwritten addendum to the typescript. 

The whole man' is a handwritten addendum to the typescript. The 

notion of 'the whole man', which the Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts and 

The German Ideology takes from Ludwig Feuerbach, holds a central place 

in the work of the PCF's then 'official philosopher' Roger Garaudy, as 

well as in that of Maximilien Rubel, Henri Lefebvre, and others (see, for 

example, Lefebvre, Dialectical Materialism, trans. John Sturrock, London, 

1968; Garaudy, Perspectives de I'hotnme, Paris, 1959, pp. 1, 315 and passim; 

Qu'est-ce que la morale marxiste, Paris, 1963, p. 217). 

11. The proofs read: 'Even when this interpretation tries to take its distance 
from bourgeois humanism. Even when this interpretation takes its 
distance from bourgeois humanism, even when it declares , . ' 

12. 'Creation, freedom, creative freedom' is the reading of the typescript; 
the proofs read 'creation, creative freedom'. 

13. The words 'no less' are a handwritten addendum to the typescript, 
which originally indicated that the evolutionist interpretation of Marx- 
ism was less serious than the humanist interpretation. The Hungarian 
translation ('A Marxista hlozdha tortenelmi feladata', in Marx -az elm&et 
forradalma f trans. Erno Gero, Budapest 1968, p. 289) has it that the 
evolutionist 'deformation of Marxism' is 'no less serious' than the 
humanist deformation. 

4 The following six paragraphs represent the revised version of a passage 
from a manuscript on the union of theory and practice that Althusser 
intended to publish in book form in the mid-1960s. The chapter contain- 
m g this passage was published in La Pensee in April 1967 and translated 

15 it OTW' 55-6; I have followed the existing translation closely here. 

16 il!f footnote that follows is an intercalation in the typescript. 

' -^ Jorge Semprun, 'Marxisme et humanisme', La Nouvetle critique, no. 

H March 1965, p. 30: 'We cannot restore the vigour ar\(\ rigour of 

^arxism by shutting ourselves up in the besieged fortress of an abstract, 

17 ^orical Marxism.' 

, s sentence, only part of which is contained in the proofs, is translated 

18. J* the typescript 

uiusser introduced the second sentence of the following note in a 

19. J^written addendum to the typescript. 

e preceding ten words are contained in the typescript but not in the 


20. In distinguishing the object of psychoanalysis from the 'pe r 

the note that follows, Althusser was doubtless thinking of i n ^ty* \* 
who was working on a project that would issue in the vol ^ v e 
Marxism and the Theory of Human Personality (trans. David P a U ° l * rio Us 
don, 1975), the first edition of which was released by the Co ^° n * 
Party's publishing house Editions sociales in 1969. Althusser coni ^t 
on this project in a 27 June 1966 letter to Seve: mme nt 6f j 

what some people call psychology, or, in any case, what you are • 
treat under the rubric 'theory of the development of the persn^ *° 
using concepts that are 50% Garaudyist (humanism, the individ*^ 
your sense of the word, labour, etc.) essentially belongs to (l) o**!^ 
physio-biology, and (2) sociology. The third term, the unconsciom 
its mechanisms, belongs not to what is called psychology k ^ 
psychoanalysis. ' ° 

21. An allusion to Roger Garaudy, Marxism in the Twentieth Century (tran 
Ren6 Hague, London, 1970 [1966]), which concluded with a sharp attart 
on Althusserian 'dogmatism'. 

22. Both the typescript and the proofs read 'practical' 

23. The typescript contains the following addendum, written in Althusser's 
hand and then crossed out: 'albeit in philosophical categories dominated 
by a sensualist-materialist ideology' 

24. The typescript originally read: 'It is a rigorous theoretical discipline'; the 
sentence has been crossed out and replaced by the one translated here. 

25. 'Political' is a handwritten addendum to the typescript 

26. The preceding eight words are a handwritten addendum to the 

The Humanist Controversy 


Althusser's archives contain two different versions of this text, some 
ten pages of which were published, with minor modifications, in 
'Marx's Relation to HegeV (in L£nine et la philosophic Paris, 1972; 
English translation in Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx: Politics and 
History, trans. Ben Brewster, London, 1982). The author probably 
typed the first draft of the text himself Only thirty-eight pages of it 
survive; they are unpaginated and covered with countless handwritten 
modifications, most of which were incorporated into the last part of the 
second version of the text. Doubtless because he found the first draft 
relatively satisfactory, Althusser had a secretary at the tcole normale 
superieure retype it, and then made a few handwritten modifications to 
her typescript: whence the second and, this time, full version of the 
™ Full, but most probably unfinished: all indications are that 
Althusser abandoned an originally much more ambitious project en 
rouie - h particular, the second part of the text includes the beginnings 
J a first subsection which, however, stands alone. Here we publish the 
_ of the second version, without indicating where it has been 
y V e ^ The numbering of the chapters is, however, based on the first 
e y.J° n ' This poses certain problems, which are discussed in the 


The h Secon ^ tyP e( t version of the text comprises two distinct parts. 
IQ3 • °fthe work, numbered from page 1 (initially page 17) to page 
U pi P rece ded by a brief introduction numbered from page 1 to page 
that « ^ The Humanist Controversy' was complicated by the fact 
*he c lese fi rst sixteen pages do not read as a continuous whole, despite 
l ^uous pagination, but, rather, fall into two separate parts. The 


first constitutes a true introduction to the work: we publish it 
The existence of the second is explained by the kind of book S ^ 
Althusser initially planned to release under the title La Querell 
l'humanisme; it was to contain, in addition to the text included i* 
present volume, two texts that he had initially published in jo Urh 
and then collected in For Marx - 'Marxism and Humanism' and ' 
Complementary Note on "Real Humanism" r - together with sev 
representative essays from the debate these two texts sparked off, /c 
the Introduction to the present volume.) The second part of th 
introduction thus comprises a group of short individual texts in zohirh 
Althusser presented and commented on the essays he intended to brin 
together in The Humanist Controversy // this book had seen the 
light, then f short introductions by Althusser would have preceded each 
of the essays included in it. Since it makes little sense to publish these 
introductions in the absence of the essays they were intended to 
introduce, the reader will not find them below. Thus we hear the voice 
of only one of the disputants in the humanist controversy. 

Tranqois Matheron 

Amid the detail of trifles and quarrels, even if only for or against 
humanism, one must bow to the evidence: history loves little 
flaps [Vhistoire adore les histoires]. 

The "humanist controversy' began as peacefully as could be 
imagined. One summer day in 1963, at a friend's house, 1 
happened to meet Dr Adam Schaff, a leading member of one of 
our Communist parties. (Charged by the leadership of the Polish 
Communist Party with responsibility for the 'intellectuals , 
Schaff is both a philosopher known for his books on semantics 
and the problem of man in Marxism/ and a high-ranking p 3 ^ 
leader esteemed for his cultivation and open-mindedness. 
was on his way back from the United States, where he had gF 
talks on Marx to large, enthusiastic academic audiences.) & 
told me about a project under the direction of Erich P r0 , ^ 
whom he knew well and had recently met in the USA. d* 
the war, in the 1930s, Fromm had been connected with a G e ^ 
Marxist group with ultra-left tendencies that aired its vie ^ 
an ephemeral journal, the Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung- 2 ^ w ^ 
this journal that Adorno, Horkheimer, Borkenau and other 
made a name for themselves. Nazism drove Fromm int° 


Hid many others. He has since become famous for his essays 
a5 1 ndern 'consumer' society, 3 which he analyses with the help 
otl ncepts derived from a certain confrontation between Marx- 

C nd Freudianism. Fromm had just released, in the United 

i5lT1 a translation of selections from texts by the young Marx; 

^ r to gain a wider audience for Marxism, he now had plans 

ublish a substantial collective work on 'socialist Humanism', 

d was soliciting contributions from Marxist philosophers from 
3 ntries in the West and the East. 4 Doctor A. insisted that I 

rticipate in this project. I had, moreover, received a letter from 
Fromm a few days earlier. 5 Why had Fromm, whom I did not 
know, written to me? Doctor A. had brought my existence to his 


I pleaded the conjuncture, and the solemn title under which 
this much too beautiful international orchestra had been assem- 
bled: the only thing that could come of it, I said, was a Missa 
Solemnis in Humanism-Major, and my personal part could only 
spoil the Universal Harmony of the score. But it was to no avail 
that I made the conversation ring with all the capital letters that 
Circumstance obliged me to use; to no avail that, out of argu- 
ments, I gave him my arguments, called a spade a spade, said, 
in brief, that my music would not be appreciated. A. (Schaff) 
sealed my lips with an impeccable syllogism. Every Humanist is 
a Liberal; Fromm is a Humanist; therefore, Fromm is a Liberal. 
It followed that I could play my instrument in peace, after my 
°wn fashion. I let him coax me about as long as was seemly - to 
savour the situation, but also because I was plagued by a 
jigging doubt. I may have been wrong, after all: with a good 
e ory of the displacement of the dominant, which I was trying 
r a to profess, one could, after all, imagine a Humanist who 
also a Liberal, the conjuncture notwithstanding. Everything 
' as a matter of the conjuncture. 

to th Wr ° te m y ar ^ c ' e immediately. Just in case, and with an eye 
tna , e Public that would be reading it, a public I did not know, I 
of ,!* Ver y short and too clear, and even took the precaution 
a nc j ,ec ting it to a 'rewrite', that is, of making it even shorter 
M arx , earer - In two lines, I settled the question of the early 

in t en lnte 'tectual development with no ifs, ands and buts, and, 

and e li^ Vra PP ec ' U P the history of philosophy, political economy 

Ics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; I went 


concepts (a sledgehammer opposition of science and nts a ^d 
that would, if they did not quite manage to convince '°8Vi 

to indulge in a bit of theoreticaT **?** Kit 

home. I went so far as to 

ism/ 1 I had my article translated into English by a com ' 
friend 7 who, I knew, would be all the more meticulous b * 
his ideas were as far from mine as they could possibly be- US * 
posted this short ad hoc text without delay. Time was of tk 

right to the point, with tolerably unrefined ami 
*._ /_ -i~j i :li -c . o liI ^ents 

id eoI 
* leat 

- flattering myself that it would fall into the category f ^f 
Saxon humour and be perceived as such - by putting f ^ 
in all seriousness, the preposterous concept of a 'class' h^* 1 ^ 

i translated into English by a conr* 11 ^ 
friend 7 who, I knew, would be all the more meticulous b 

- - - - - • - - "■**U5 

and i 

essence: deadlines, 

I waited. Time passed. I kept on waiting. It was sever I 
months before I received an answer from Fromm, s He vva 
terribly, terribly sorry. My text was extremely interesting; he 
didn't question its intrinsic value; but, decidedly, it had no place 
in the project - in, that is, the concert of the others. Professions 
of gratitude, excuses. My law of the displacement of the domi- 
nant had failed to come into play. The same went for the 
Humanist-therefore-Liberal syllogism: all a matter of the con- 
juncture. One more reason for thinking that between Humanism 
and Liberalism on the one hand, and the conjuncture on the 
other, there existed something like - as, moreover, my article 
said, in black and white - a non-accidental relation. 

This was one more reason to publish my text. To publish it 
where, at the time, it could be published: all a matter of the 
conjuncture. Thanks to the liberalism of Critica Marxists, a new 
theoretical journal of the Italian Communist Party, and of the 
philosophical section of the Cahiers de VISE A (with Jean Lacroix 
as its general editor), it was possible to publish the essay in It**/ 
and France (spring/summer 1964)/' I continue to be sincere, 
grateful to these two journals: they deserve credit for accep 8 
my text, for it ran counter to all or part of their explicit ideoiog; 
Months followed in which nothing happened. That, too* 
prevailing law in intellectual work. . ^ 

Then, one day in January 1965, 1 was surprised to read, tf* 

inthlv Clarte. the orean of the UEC \ Union des ttud^f 


of my text. It was the work of Jorge Semprun, a writer ^ aS 

monthly Clarte, the organ of the UEC [Union aes ^-7 e 
Communistes] of the day, 11 ' a courteous but very spirited cr^ 4 

for a very fine novel about the deportation. 11 His refutatio 


hat may be called an 'Italian' line of Marxist argu- 
hAS^ ° n the pardon of our Italian comrades: contrary to what 
fl ieflt \ ff suppose, neither Italy, nor the Italian Communist 
t1fl t? ^ Italian Marxism is in question here - 'Italian' is not, 
party' n ° mp ie adjective of physical geography, it is an adjective 
thtf 1 '?.. i geography, by which certain French intellectuals, or 
oi f K ^ a j s w ho are French by culture, were in the habit of 
• ting the particular position on the French political map 

h v intended to occupy. 12 The relationship between this so- 

1 ■• ' ^mr-\l-\f^r\ ranrl fV-»£» rts^X Tf^ltr (¥r\r% frito *•£»! ci fi r^n i^ ta i r\ 

curious subject of study some day. 
3 believe, on the strength of reliable information I received later, 
that certain intellectuals in the Italian Party had expressed a 
wish that someone reply to the article I had published in Critica 
Warxista: out of consideration for me, a Frenchman and a mem- 
ber of the French Communist Party, they had preferred that the 
rejoinder appear in a French political organ. Various random 
factors, no doubt, had led to the choice of Clarte. 

The pace of events now quickened. With Jorge Semprun's and 
my authorization, La Nouvelle critique published a 'dossier' on 
the debate and opened the discussion (March 1965). It went on 
for months. Francis Cohen, Michel Simon, Genevieve Navarri, 
M[ichel] Brossard, Michel Verret, Pierre Macherey, and others 
took part. The discussion was rekindled when Francois Maspero 
published For Marx and Reading Capital in the series 'Th£orie' 
(autumn 1965]. It was pursued at a general assembly of Com- 
munist Philosophers at Choisy-le-Roi u in January 1966. Some of 

os e who took the floor at this conference - Roger Garaudy, for 

ample - fiercely attacked my essays. At a meeting held at 
^ r genteuil in March 1966, 14 the Central Committee deliberated 
th n man i sm and, directly or indirectly, took a stand on the 
in u 3nc * counter ~theses under 'discussion', even while declar- 
es nat this discussion was, in every sense of the word, 'open' 

J^°w obvious that it will not be 'closed' any time soon. 
vvl Us i* was that a decidedly minor event (a few pages on 
tj 0n x Seern s to be a purely theoretical or even doctrinaire ques- 
ts ' an ev ent which one (I most of all) would have had every 
g ra , . to consider a mere 'accident' of a more or less autobio- 
ca L kind (the chance encounter between Fromm's project 


and a few studies that I had been pursuing), acquired a- 
out of all proportion to its beginnings. This is a sign th^^ori 
the very rough form it took, the essay that I had w * **' ev *n [ 
American audience must have touched an extremel ^ *° r ^n 
spot in the present ideological, if not theoretical, coniu Sensitiv e 
us say that, in a certain sense, it 'entered' this coniu ** **t 
forcing open a door that some people doubtless had an * * ^y 
holding stubbornly shut - and by closing another doo tk*^ 
same people doubtless had an interest in regarding as tK ^ e 
one open to the public. A door, open or shut: the conjunctu °^ 
made it, in its way, one of the Doors of the Hour, one that n 
could ignore or that everyone had to notice. I am not abo T* 
claim that, as I was writing my text, I was entirely unaware of th° 
effect it would have in an important conjuncture, since, on th 
contrary, I insist, in a dozen different places, on the conjunctural 
significance of the 'Humanist' tide in certain contemporary Marx- 
ist circles. But the 'consciousness' one has of what one is doing in 
defending a Thesis is one thing; the relationship that that 'con- 
sciousness' bears to the real world is quite another. The little 
'stories' [histoires] I told and the effects that followed from them 
are, in some sort, the experimental record of a confrontation 
between a thesis (or diagnosis) and reality: that is how little 
'stories' go down in 'history' [c'est par la que les petites 'histoires' 
entrent dans Vhistoire]. Nor would I ever have described their 
mechanism in detail if it were not now clear that this mechanism, 
the stuff of anecdote, was itself the effect of a necessity in which 
all of us taking part in the debate were caught up. To tell the 
truth, if history is forever bringing little stories into the world 1$* 
I'histoire fait toujours des histoires], it doesn't love them all: it lov 
only those that concern it in one way or another. And it assign 
no one, not even its victims, the task of 'sorting them out . «^ 
say that, as far as the 'humanist controversy' is concerne r 
sorting out has been done - or, rather, is now under way* An 
of us sense that, riding on the small change of a few concep ^ 
words that are now being sorted out, is the outcome of a g . ^ 
which we all have a stake, of which this 'discussion' of Hutn 

by a few philosophers is an echo, close to hand and uy 11 m 5 
remote: the way we should understand Marx, and put «u 

into practice. robl^ 

It is time to recall - when, in view of the enormous p r 


«. by the redoubtable conjuncture that assails us, so 
i(C ed ° n , e are wondering 'what is to be done?' - it is time to 

l3 ny P, rning of Lenin's drawn from the work which bears 
recall a * „ 


t Htte- 

I Marx's Theoretical Revolution 

. up, then, one more time, the question of the history of the 
, e | pment of Marx's theoretical thought: the question of the 
' oistemological break' between the ideological prehistory and 
the scientific history of his thought; the question of the radical 
theoretical difference that forever separates the works of Marx's 
youth from Capital 

Let the reader be forewarned: I make no apologies for return- 
ing to this question. We shall return to it as often as we have to, 
for as long as we have to - as long as this key question has not 
been settled, both in and of itself and in its effects. To call things 
by their true names: as long as a fundamental ambiguity is not 
resolved, an ambiguity which today objectively provides, in its 
domain, a theoretical basis for (philosophical and religious) 
bourgeois ideology even within certain organizations of proletar- 
ian class struggle, in our country and elsewhere. Something 
extremely serious is at stake in this ambiguity: it is a question of 
e struggle to defend Marxist theory against certain tendentially 
ev *sionist theoretical interpretations and presentations, 
th ^ e theoretical anc * historical problems of the history of 
j. orma hon of Marx's thought, on the crucial period of the 
to? / Manuscri P ts > the 'Theses on Feuerbach' and The German 
°8y, the detailed studies for which this question calls are in 
c ^ r J ss - We shall publish them in due course. Here I want to 
th** er ' ust a f ew of the provisional, but essential, conclusions 
^J* have come to. 

d ev ! s not scholarly fetishism to 'return to Marx' and follow the 

J\I 0r °P m ent of his thought word fir word through his texts. 

ISu A ^ e fetishism of a historian to go back to work on the 

Manuscripts, The German Ideology, and Capital It is not a 


question of 'fleeing' the present for the past however illustri 
that past. It is a question of our present itself: of Marx's thea 1 ^ 
It is by no means a question of taking up residence, as so 
have seen fit to put it in a singularly demagogic phrase, i n t i e 
'fortress' of an ahistorical Marxism, the 'eternity of concepts' * 
'pure abstraction', in order to issue, from on high, doctrina* 
decrees about the practice of others who are wrestling with real 
complex historical problems. Ul It is, rather, a question of armin 
ourselves with the only available theoretical principles for mas^ 
tering the real problems, immense and difficult, that history has 
today put before the International Communist Movement. We 
can master these practical problems only if we grasp their 
mechanisms: we can grasp their mechanisms only if we produce 
scientific knowledge of them. Charges of 'doctrinaire abstrac- 
tion', exaltation of the 'concrete 7 , and denunciations of 'neo- 
dogmatism' are not merely the arguments of a vulgar demagogy, 
both ideological and political; they are also, when they are not 
simply isolated slips of the pen, the perennial symptoms of 
theoretical revisionism in Marxism itself. 1 

- 1 Lenin, What Is to be Done?, trans, anon., in Henry M. Chrisrman, ed., Essential 
Works of Lenin, New York, 1971, p. 54n, pp. 68 ff.: 

At the present time (this is quite evident now), the English Fabians, the French 
Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinists and the Russian 'critics' - all belong to 
the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and are rallying their 
forces against 'doctrinaire' Marxism. 

'Dogmatism, doctrinarisnV, 'ossification of the Party - the inevitable retribution 
that follows the violent strait-lacing of thought', these are the enemies against 
which the knightly champions of 'freedom of criticism' rise in arms in Rabochey* 
Dyelo. We are very glad that this question has been brought up [but] who are 
to be the judges . .? thus we see that high-sounding phrases against the ossification 
of thought, etc., conceal carelessness and helplessness in the development 
theoretical ideas. The case of the Russian Social-Democrats strikingly illustrates 
fact observed in the whole of Europe that the notorious freedom of cnu^s** 
implies, not the substitution of one theory for another, but freedom fronj 
complete and thought-out theory; it implies eclecticism and absence of prinap ; ^ 

We can judge, therefore, how tactless Rabocheye Dyelo is when, with an 
invincibility, it quotes the statement of Marx: 'A single step of the real move ^ 
is more important than a dozen programs.' To repeat these words in the e ^Z^ ve 
theoretical chaos is like wishing mourners at a funeral 'many happy retu ^th* 
day' Moreover, these words of Marx are taken from his letter on the ^ 
Program, in which he sharply condemns eclecticism in the formulation of P m€ aiS 
If you must combine, Marx wrote to the Party leaders, then enter into ag ***• . |gs, 
to satisfy the practical aims of the movement, but do not haggle over P 00 ^pl* 
do not make 'concessions' in theory. This was Marx's idea, and yet there a r 
amongst us who strive - in his name! - to belittle the significance of theory- 


rf we g° back to Marx, and, in the present conjuncture, 
rberately put the emphasis on theoretical problems and 
riallv th e 'decisive link' in Marxist theory, namely, philos- 
ii it is in order to defend Marxist theory against the theoreti- 
l 'llv revisionist tendencies that threaten it; it is in order to 
c rjnit and specify the field in which Marxist theory must at all 
ts progress if it is to produce the knowledge the revolutionary 
rties urgently need in order to confront the crucial political 
roblems of our present and future. There can be no equivocat- 
ing on this point. Marx's past, which we shall be discussing here, 
s whether we like it or not, a direct road to our present: it is 
our present and, what is more, our future. 

I shall go straight to the point, in a few pages and a few 
necessarilv schematic distinctions. 

We are doubtless still too close to Marx's monumental discov- 
ery to measure its exceptional importance in the history of 
human knowledge. Yet we are beginning to be able to describe 
Marx's discovery as a momentous theoretical event which 
'opened up' a new 'continent', that of History, to scientific 
knowledge. 17 As such, there are just two other great discoveries 
m all of human knowledge to which it is comparable from a 
theoretical point of view: Thales', which 'opened up' the 'conti- 
nent' of mathematics to knowledge, and Galileo's, which opened 
up the 'continent' of physical nature to knowledge. To the two 
continents' (and their differentiated internal regions) accessible 
o knowledge, Marx added, with his fundamental discovery, a 

ird We are only just beginning to explore it. 
wh ° n 'y are we ' ust beginning to explore this 'continent', 

°se riches we as yet hardly suspect; we are just beginning to 

a sure the unprecedented import and range of this scientific 

b e 0Ver Y It is more than a merely scientific discovery, for it 

s within it, like all the great 'continental' scientific discover- 

Pom eSe P eo P^ e w ho cannot utter the word 'theoretician' without a disdainful 
of j.^ who ca U their worship of unpreparedness and development for the realities 
p ract - cl ser tse of life', in fact demonstrate their ignorance of our most urgent 


ies, incalculable philosophical consequences; we have iw 

>hi c 

still too close to Marx truly to appreciate the import of u 

taken their true measure yet. This last point is crucial ]U ^ 
scientific revolution contains an unprecedented philoso lv* s 
revolution which, by forcing philosophy to think its relation?' 
to history, profoundly alters the economy of philosophy VV 

scientific revolution he precipitated. A fortiori, we are much 
close to him even to imagine the importance of the philosoph" 00 
revolution that this scientific revolution carries within it ]f 
are today confronted, in many respects cruelly, with what has 
be termed the backwardness [retard] of Marxist philosophy vis-a 
vis the science of history, it is not only for historical, but also fo 
theoretical reasons of which I have elsewhere 18 attempted to gi Ve 
a preliminary and very summary idea. This backwardness is in 
the first stage of things, inevitable. However, in a second stage, 
which now lies open before us, it can and must be overcome, at 
least in its essential aspect. 

It is against the general background of the double theoretical 
revolution induced by Marx's discovery (in science and in phil- 
osophy) that we can pose the problem of the history of the 
formation and theoretical transformation of Marx's thought. 

If we are to pose this problem clearly enough to hope to be 
able to resolve it, we have clearly to distinguish its various 
aspects. To begin with, we have to distinguish the political from 
the theoretical history of the individual named Marx. From a 
political standpoint, the history of the individual Marx, wno 
entered the political and intellectual arena in the 1840s, is * 
history of a young German bourgeois intellectual's transit! 
from radical liberalism to communism. A radical-liberal 
1841-42 (when he wrote the Rliemische Zeitung articles), M* 
went over to communism in 1843-44. What did 'go ° ve . 
communism' mean at the time? It meant taking up a p 051 ^ 
first subjectively and then objectively, at the side of the w ° r - ca l 
class. But it also meant espousing certain profoundly ideol g 
communist conceptions: Utopian, humanist, or, in a word, i 


ncepHons - whose idealism was marked by the central 
* 5 * . nS of religious and moral ideology. 

n °rhis explains why Marx's theoretical development lagged 

hnd his political development. This lag [decalage] is one of the 

^ r to the question at hand: if we fail to take it into account, we 

: \ to understand how the 1844 Manuscripts can be the work of 

author who is politically a communist, but theoretically still 

an Realist • 
The theoretical history of the young philosopher Marx, which 

must be considered in its own right, is the history of a double 
transition. We have, to begin with, the transition from an ideol- 
ogy of history to the first, revolutionary principles of a science of 
history (whose premisses are contained in The German Ideology in 
what is still extremely confused form). Secondly, there is the 
transition from neo-Hegelian rationalist idealism (a Hegel rein- 
terpreted in terms of a philosophy of Practical Reason, and thus 
'read' through a philosophical ideology of a Kantian cast) to, 
initially, the humanist materialism of Feuerbach (1842), then the 
historicist empiricism of The German Ideology (1845-46), and 
finally, in 1857-67, when Marx wrote the works that were to 
culminate in Capital, a radically new philosophy (what we call 
dialectical materialism). If we compare Marx's theoretical to his 
political history, we observe an unmistakable lag between the 
events of the theoretical and the political history. A double lag: 
a lag between the scientific and the political 'breaks'; and an 
additional lag between the philosophical and scientific breaks 7 

Of course, we cannot conceptualize all these 'events' and their 

dialectic, with its complex 'lags', as so many 'acts' of an individ- 

u aJ engaged in 'inventing' or 'creating' a new theory in the pure 

0r ld of his 'subjectivity'. As Lenin has clearly shown, to under- 

itu *^ e to stor i co "th eore tical necessity of Marx's discoveries 

eir possibility and their necessity), one has to conceive them 

: . e events of a specific theoretical history of which the 

lv, dual Marx was the 'agent' - a theoretical history that 

. °ids, in its turn, against the backdrop of a social and political 

hist We th^k Marx's discovery within the field of this 

by ., y °f theories, it emerges as the revolutionary effect produced 

°mv e Con i Unc ti° n of German philosophy English political econ- 

an d French socialism in a determinate theoretico-ideological 


conjuncture, against the background of a determinate socio 
cal conjuncture (the class struggles sparked off by the exoa . 
of capitalism in the Western world). It is in the field of ^ 
history of theories that the epistemological 'breaks' whose r v 
we can observe in the intellectual history of the individual M ^ 
become intelligible ^breaks' between the philosophy of hist ** 
and the science of history, idealism and humanist materiali ^ 
historicist materialism on the one hand and dialectical materi 1 
ism on the other). 

One hardly need add that while Lenin's remark is extreme! 
valuable, and while we are convinced that it is necessary t 
develop this theory of the history of theories, we are very far from 
possessing its specific concepts. The theory of the history of 
theories - ideological, scientific and philosophical - is still in its 
infancy. This is no accident: the theory of the history of theories 
rightfully belongs to the 'continent' of history to which Marx has 
only just provided us access. It is not far-fetched to hope that, 
with the help of a number of valuable works by specialists in the 
history of the sciences (Bachelard, Koyre, Canguilhem, etc.), we 
shall some day be able to propose - starting out, for example, 
from the history of the formation of Marxist theory - a few 
concepts of the type needed to produce the rudiments of such a 

At all events, it is against the general background of this history 
that we can bring out our carefully considered reasons for 
defending the thesis of Marx's theoretical anti-humanism. 

I have said elsewhere, 19 and will repeat here, that we should' 
in the strict sense, speak of Marx's theoretical tf-humanism- * 
reason that I earlier used the phrase 'Marx's theoretical an 
humanism' (just as I propose to speak of the anti-historicis ' 
anti-evolutionism, and anti-structuralism of Marxist theory) 
to emphasize the relentlessly polemical aspect of the break 
Marx had to effect in order to think and articulate his discov y 
It was also in order to indicate that this polemic is by no r* 1 
behind us: we have to pursue, even today, in the face o 
same ideological prejudices, the same theoretical struggle* v* 1 


f seeing it end any time soon. We are not labouring under 
fr°P Uusions: theoretical humanism has a long and very 'bright 
^ re ahead of it. We shall not have settled accounts with it by 
^ s nring, any more than we shall have settled accounts with 
110 lutionist historicist or structuralist ideologies. 
e% Tcr° sp ea ^ °f Marx's rupture with Theoretical Humanism is a 

-y precise thesis: if Marx broke with this ideology, that means 
u had espoused it; if he had espoused it (and it was no 
nCO nsummated marriage), that means it existed. There are 
ever any imaginary wives in the unions consecrated by the 
history of theories, even in that particular field of theories 
represented by the imaginary field of ideologies. The Theoretical 
Humanism Marx espoused was that of Feuerbach. 

Marx, like all the Young Hegelians, 'discovered' Feuerbach in 
very special conditions, which I have said something about, 
following Auguste Cornu. 21 For a time, Feuerbach 'saved' the 
Young Hegelian radicals theoretically from the insoluble contra- 
dictions induced in their liberalist-rationalist 'philosophical con- 
science' by the obstinacy of the damned Prussian State, which, 
being 'in itself Reason and Freedom, persisted in misrecognizing 
its own 'essence', persevering much longer than was proper in 
Unreason and Despotism. Feuerbach 'saved' them theoretically 
by providing them with the reason for the Reason-Unreason 
contradiction: by a theory of the alienation of Man. 

In my essay, admittedly, I spoke of Humanism as if it had 
directly sustained the entire problematic of classical philosophy. 
That formulation is too crude to serve as anything more than a 
general indication; it has to be corrected and made more precise, 
a s can be done in later works, which some of us have already 
undertaken. Since our aim is to be a bit more precise, we shall 
n arrow our focus here, and speak only of Feuerbach. 

Obviously it would be impossible - on whatever basis, even a 

ar xist one - to think that the matter of Feuerbach can be settled 

/ a confessional note of the kind: a few quotations from him, 

th m ^ arx anc * Engels, who had read him. Nor is it settled by 

adjective of convenience and ignorance which none the less 

°unds in so many disputes: a speculative anthropology. As 

amk '*■ were enough to remove the speculation from the 

th ro P°*°gy f° r the anthropology (assuming one knows what 

w °rd designates) to stand up by itself: cut the head off a 


duck and it won't go far. 22 As though it were also enough 
pronounce these magic words to call Feuerbach by his n *° 
(philosophers, even if they are not watchdogs, are like you ^ 
me: for them to come, they must at least be called by their nam** 
Let me therefore try to call Feuerbach by his name - even :' 
need be, by an abbreviation of his name. 

Of course, I shall discuss only the Feuerbach of the y ea 
1839-45, that is to say, the author of The Essence of Christianity 
and the Principles of the Philosophy of the Future - not the post 
1848 Feuerbach, who, against his own earlier precepts, 'put a lot 
of water in his wine' (in his prime, he maintained that everything 
had to be savoured in its unadulterated, pure, 'natural' state - 
coffee without sugar, for example), 23 

The Feuerbach of the Essence of Christianity occupies a quite 
extraordinary position in the history of philosophy. Indeed, he 
brings off the tour deforce of putting an 'end to classical German 
philosophy', of overthrowing (to be quite precise: of 'inverting') 
Hegel, the Last of the Philosophers, in whom all its history was 
summed up, by a philosophy that was theoretically retrogressive 
with respect to the great German idealist philosophy. Retrogres- 
sive must be understood in a precise sense. If Feuerbach's 
philosophy carries within it traces of German idealism, its theo- 
retical foundations date from before German idealism. With Feuer- 
bach we return from 1810 to 1750, from the nineteenth to the 
eighteenth century. Paradoxically, for reasons that would make 
a good 'dialectic' derived from Hegel giddy, it was by its 
retrogressive character that Feuerbach's philosophy had fortu- 
nate progressive effects in the ideology, and even in the political 
history, of its partisans. But let us leave this point aside. 

A philosophy which carries traces of German idealism but 
settles accounts with German idealism, and its supreme repre* 
sentative, Hegel, by a theoretically retrogressive system - what are 
we to make of that? 

The traces of German idealism: Feuerbach takes up the phil°* 
sophical problems posed by German idealism. Above all/ tn 
problems of Pure Reason and Practical Reason, the problems o 
Nature and Freedom, the problems of Knowledge (what can 
know?), of Morality {what ought I to do?), and of Religion (urh* 
can I hope for?). Hence Kant's fundamental problems, & 
'returned to' by way of Hegel's critique and solutions (broad , ' 


Htique of the Kantian distinctions or abstractions, which for 
^ el derive from a misrecognition of Reason reduced to the 

i of the Understanding). Feuerbach poses the problems of 

r rman idealism with the intention of giving them a Hegelian- 

e solution: indeed, he tries to pose the unity of the Kantian 

Inunctions or abstractions in something resembling the Hegelian 

, a xhis 'something' resembling the Hegelian Idea, while being 
radical inversion, is Man, or Nature, or Sinnlichkeit (simul- 
taneously sensuous materiality, receptivity and sensuous 
in tersubjectivity). 

To hold all this together - I mean, to think as a coherent unity 
these three notions: Man, Nature, and Sinnlichkeit - is a dumb- 
founding theoretical gamble, which makes Feuerbach's 'philos- 
ophy' a philosophical velleity, that is to say, a real theoretical 
inconsistency invested in a 'wish' for an impossible philosophical 
consistency A moving 'wish', certainly, even a pathetic one, 
since it expresses and proclaims in great solemn cries the desper- 
ate will to escape from a philosophical ideology against which it 
ultimately remains a rebel, that is, its prisoner. The fact is that 
this impossible unity gave rise to an ceuvre which has played a 
part in history and produced disconcerting effects, some imme- 
diate (on Marx and his friends), others deferred (on Nietzsche, 
on Phenomenology, on a certain modern theology, and even on 
the recent 'hermeneutic' philosophy which derives from it). 

It was an impossible unity (Man-Nature, Sinnlichkeit) 24 which 
enabled Feuerbach to 'resolve' the great philosophical problems 
°f German idealism by 'transcending' Kant and 'inverting' 
Hegel. For example, the Kantian problems of the distinction 
between Pure Reason and Practical Reason, between Nature and 
freedom, and so on, find their solution in Feuerbach in a unique 
Principle: Man and his attributes. For example, the Kantian 
Problem of scientific objectivity and the Hegelian problem of 
r eligion find their solution in Feuerbach in an extraordinary 
heory of speculary objectivity ('the object of a being is the 
Rectification of its Essence': the object - the objects - of Man 
r e the objectification of the Human Essence). For example, the 
. ar *tian problem of the Idea and History, transcended by Hegel 

u^e theory of the Spirit as the ultimate moment of the Idea, 
. ds its solution in Feuerbach in an extraordinary theory of the 

er subjectivity constitutive of the Human Genus. 25 As the 


principal term in all these solutions, we always find \* 
attributes, and his 'essential' objects (speculary 'reflectio ^' ^ 
Essence). °*his 

Thus, with Feuerbach, Man is the unique, origi na 
fundamental concept, the factotum, which stands in for k ^ 
Transcendental Subject, Noumenal Subject, Empirical sl?^ 
and Idea, and also stands in for Hegel's Idea. The ' e J^ 
classical German philosophy' is then quite simply a v k°' 
suppression of its solutions which respects its problems. It • 
replacement of its solutions by heteroclite philosophical nob * 
gathered from here and there in the philosophy of the eighteenth 
century (sensualism, empiricism, the materialism of Sinnlkhfoii 
borrowed from the tradition of Condillac; a pseudo-bioloeism 
vaguely inspired by Diderot; an idealism of Man and the 'heart' 
drawn from Rousseau), and unified by a play on theoretical words 
in the concept of Man. 

Hence the extraordinary position and the effects Feuerbach 
could draw from his inconsistency: declaring himself in turn and 
all at once (and he himself saw no duplicity or inconsistency in 
this) a materialist, an idealist, a rationalist, a sensualist, an 
empiricist, a realist, an atheist and a humanist. Hence his decla- 
mations against Hegel's speculation, reduced to 'abstraction. 
Hence his appeals to the concrete, to the 'thing itself, to the real, 
to the sensuous, to matter, against all the forms of alienation, 
whose ultimate essence is for him constituted by abstraction. 
Hence the sense of his 'inversion' of Hegel, which Marx long 
espoused as the real critique of Hegel, whereas it is still entirely 
trapped in the empiricism of which Hegel is no more than the 
sublimated theory: to invert the attribute into the subject, to 
invert the Idea into the Sensuous Real, to invert the Abstract into 
the Concrete, and so forth. All that placed under the category oj 
Man, who is the Real, the Sensuous and the Concrete. An ol 
tune, whose worn-out variations are still served up for us today- 

There you have the Theoretical Humanism which Marx had 
deal with. I say theoretical, for Man is not just an Idea in *" 
Kantian sense for Feuerbach, but the theoretical foundation 
the whole of his 'philosophy', as the Cogito was for Descart * 
the Transcendental Subject for Kant, and the Idea for Hegel- 1 
this Theoretical Humanism that is overtly at work in the * 


f re turning to Marx, one more word on the consequences 
ut par adoxical philosophical position which claims radically 
holish German idealism, but respects its problems and hopes 
t0 3 solve them through the intervention of a jumble of eight- 
t0 th-century concepts, gathered together within the theoretical 
* \ nC tion of Man, which stands in for their 'philosophical' unity 
2d consistency. 

For it is not possible to 'return' with impunity to a position 
behind a philosophy while retaining the problems it has brought 
to light. The fundamental consequence of this theoretical retro- 
gression accompanied by a retention of current problems is to 
induce an enormous contraction of the existing philosophical 
problematic, behind the appearances of its 'inversion', which is 
no more than the impossible 'wish' to invert it. 

Engels and Lenin were perfectly well aware of this 'contrac- 
tion' with respect to Hegel 'Feuerbach is small in comparison 
with Hegel .' 2<> Let us go straight to the point: what Feuerbach 
unforgivably sacrificed of Hegel is History and the Dialectic - or 
rather, since it is one and the same thing for Hegel, History or 
the Dialectic. Here too, Marx, Engels and Lenin made no mis- 
take: Feuerbach is a materialist in the sciences, but ... he is an 
idealist in History. Feuerbach talks about Nature, but he does 
not talk about History - since Nature stands in for it. Feuerbach 
is not dialectical. And so on. 

With the perspective we have on the matter, let us try to make 
these established judgements more precise. 

Of course, history certainly is discussed by Feuerbach, who is 

J a Pable of distinguishing between 'Hindu', 'Judaic', 'Roman' 

^ etc ) 'human natures'. But there is no theory of history in his 

w ork. And, above all, there is no trace of the theory of history 

e owe to Hegel as a dialectical process of the production of forms. 

Of course, as we can now begin to say, what hopelessly 

ls torts the Hegelian conception of history as a dialectical pro- 

Ss is its teleological conception of the dialectic, inscribed in the 

ty structures of the Hegelian dialectic at an extremely precise 

int: the Aufhebung (transcendence-preserving-the-transcended- 

'the-internalized-transcended), directly expressed in the Hege- 


lian category of the negation of the negation (or negative 
criticize the Hegelian philosophy of History because it is tel ^° 
ical, because from its origins it is in pursuit of a goal *" 
realization of Absolute Knowledge), hence to reject the tele i 
in the philosophy of history, but, at the same time, to take u °^ 
Hegelian dialectic again just as it is, is to fall into a str 
contradiction: for the Hegelian dialectic, too, is teleological in ^ 
structures, since the key structure of the Hegelian dialectic is tu 
negation of the negation, which is the teleology itself, identical to th 

That is why the question of the structures of the dialectic ' 
the key question dominating the whole problem of a materialist 
dialectic. That is why Stalin can be taken for an extraordinarily 
perceptive Marxist philosopher, at least on this point, since he 
struck the negation of the negation from the 'laws' of the 
dialectic. 27 But to the extent that it is possible to abstract from 
the teleology in the Hegelian conception of history and the 
dialectic, it is still true that we owe Hegel something which 
Feuerbach, blinded by his obsession with Man and the Concrete, 
was absolutely incapable of understanding: the conception of 
History as a process. Indisputably - for it passed into his works, 
and Capital is the evidence - Marx owes Hegel this decisive 
philosophical category, process. 

He owes him even more, which Feuerbach, again, did not so 
much as suspect. He owes him the concept of a process without 
a subject. It is fashionable in philosophical conversations, which 
are sometimes turned into books, to say that, in Hegel, History 
is the 'History of the alienation of man' Whatever people have 
in mind when they utter that phrase, it states a philosophic 
proposition which has an implacable meaning, which one can 
find in its offspring, if one has not already discerned it in tne 
mother. What it states is this: History is a process of alienatto 
which has a subject, and that subject is man. 

Now nothing is more foreign to Hegel's thought than 
anthropological conception of History. For Hegel, History is c e 
tainly a process of alienation, but this process does not 
Man as its subject. First, in the Hegelian history, it is a fl 1 . 
not of Man, 2 * but of the Spirit, and if one must at all costs (v* t ^ 
in respect of a 'subject' is false anyway) have a 'subjec 
History, one should talk about 'nations', or, more accurately 


nroaching the truth), the moments of the development of 
* fe iHea become Spirit. What does this mean? Something very 
& e , b U t, if only one takes the trouble to 'interpret' it, some- 
s - extraordinary from the theoretical point of view: History is 
^ the alienation of Man, but the alienation of the Spirit, that is 
n ° v the ultimate moment of the alienation of the Idea, How 
t0 .J W e interpret this? For Hegel, the process of alienation 
\ - not 'begin' with (human) History, since History is itself no 
e than the alienation of Nature, which is itself the alienation 

f Logic Alienation, which is the dialectic (in its final principle 
the negation of the negation or Aufhebung), or, to speak more 
precisely, the process of alienation, is not, as a whole current of 
modern philosophy which 'corrects' and 'contracts' Hegel would 
have it, peculiar to Human History. 

From the point of view of Human History, the process of 
alienation has always-already begun. That means - if these terms 
are taken seriously - that, in Hegel, History is thought as a 
process of alienation without a subject, or a dialectical process 
without a subject. Once one is prepared to consider just for a 
moment that all of Hegelian teleology is contained in the 
expressions I have just stated, in the category of alienation, or in 
what constitutes the master structure of the category of the 
dialectic (the negation of the negation), and once one agrees to 
abstract from what represents the teleology in these expressions, 
then there remains the formulation: history is a process without a 
subject. I think I can affirm that this category of a process without 
fl subject, which must of course be torn from the grip of Hegelian 
teleology, undoubtedly represents the greatest theoretical debt 
lin king Marx to Hegel. 

I am well aware that, finally, there is in Hegel a subject for this 
Process of alienation without a subject. But it is a very strange 

Dject, one which calls for extensive commentary: this subject is 

* Ver y teleology of the process, it is the Idea in the process of 

^alienation, which constitutes it as Idea. 


ll |s is not an esoteric thesis on Hegel: it can be verified at 
•j, mstant, that is, at each 'moment' of the Hegelian process. 
Wh S ^ *^ at ^ ere * s no su tyect to the process of alienation, 
that * n ^ stor y' * n Nature or in Logic, is quite simply to say 
Pro ° ne cann °t at any 'moment' assign as a 'subject' to the 
Ss of alienation any 'subject' whatsoever: neither some 


being (not even man), nor some nation, nor some 'moment' 
process, neither History, nor Nature, nor Logic. *he 

The only subject of the process of alienation is the proces • 
in its teleology. The subject of the process is not even the v^ 
[Fin] of the process itself (a mistake is possible here: does H ^ 
not say that the Spirit is 'Substance becoming Subject'?), it : f? 
process of alienation considered as a process in pursuit of • * 
End, and hence the process of alienation itself as teleological 

Nor is 'teleological' a determination which is added from th 
outside to the process of alienation without a subject. The teleol 
ogy of the process of alienation is inscribed in black and whit 
in its definition: in the concept of alienation, which is the teleol- 
ogy itself in the process. 

Now perhaps it is here that the strange status of Logic in 
Hegel begins to be clearer. For what is Logic? The science of the 
Idea, that is to say, the concept of the process of alienation without a 
subject, in other words, the concept of the process of self- 
alienation which, considered in its totality, is nothing but the 
Idea. Thus conceived, Logic, or the concept of the Idea, is the 
dialectic, the 'path' of the process as a process, the 'absolute 
method' If Logic is nothing but the concept of the Idea (of the 
process of alienation without a subject), then it is the concept of 
this strange subject we are looking for. But the fact that this 
subject is only the concept of the process of alienation itself- in 
other words, this subject is the Dialectic, that is, the very move- 
ment of the negation of the negation - reveals the extraordinary 
paradox of Hegel. The process of alienation without a subject (or 
the dialectic) is the only subject recognized by HegeL There is no 
subject of the process: it is the process itself which is a subject iti 
so far as it does not liave a subject. 

If we want to find what, finally, stands in for 'Subject' m 

* the 

Hegel, it is in the teleological nature of this process, m . 
teleological nature of the dialectic, that it must be sought: the En 
is already there in the Origin, That is also why there is in Heg 
no origin, nor (which is never anything but its phenomenon) 
there any beginning. The origin, indispensable to the teleology 
nature of the process (since it is only the reflection of its bn ' 
has to be denied from the moment it is affirmed for the P roceSS ^, 
alienation to be a process without a subject. It would take 
long to justify this proposition, which I advance simply in ° r 


tic ipate later developments: this implacable exigency (to 
t0 3 and in the same moment deny the origin) was consciously 

med by Hegel in his theory of the beginning of Logic: Being 

a * s mediately non-Being. The beginning of Logic is the theory 

lS t he non-originary nature of the origin. Hegel's Logic is the 

° in affirmed-denied: the first form of a concept that Derrida 

introduced into philosophical reflection, erasure [rature]r* But 

h Hegelian 'erasure' constituted by the Logic from its first 

ords is ^e negation of the negation, dialectical and hence 

geological . The true Hegelian Subject resides in the teleology. 

Take away the teleology, and there remains the philosophical 

category that Marx inherited: the category of a process without a 


It might seem that these considerations take us a long way 
from Feuerbach and the problem before us, Marx. In fact, they 
lead us straight to it, for the following reason: they make us see 
the extraordinary contraction to which Feuerbach subjected 
Hegel's problems and objectives. 

Everyone knows that Feuerbach 'took over' the concept of 
alienation from Hegel, Man and alienation are Feuerbach's mas- 
ter-concepts. But once History has been reduced to Man, once 
Man has been made the subject of what stands in for history, 
once man is declared to be the subject of alienation (religious or 
otherwise), then, whether or not one continues to use the Hege- 
lian word 'alienation', one still falls a hundred leagues behind 
Hegel, into the very conceptions that he rejected with all his 
lucidity Hence it is no surprise that the Feuerbachian concept of 
Venation should in its turn be a pathetically contracted version, 
an d a caricature, of the Hegelian concept of alienation. 

In Feuerbach, there is no theory of history as process; thus 

^re is neither a dialectic nor a theory of the process without a 

ub ject. What stands in for history in Feuerbach (let us say, the 

u| tural objects of the human world: religion, science, philos- 

Pty art, etc.) is reduced to the level of the shallowest anthro- 

JJ. 8Y- There is alienation only of Man, not of Nature - there is no 

a| ectic of Nature. The prodigious Hegelian conception of His- 

v as the alienation of a process that has always-already begun 

8^ and Nature) is reduced to the theory of an arbitrary 
^ nce whose claim to playing that role remains unknown: the 

ma n essence, objectifying itself in its objects in the immediacy 


of a speculary relation that draws around itself the cir 1 
Absolute Horizon (the Horizon of the human specie e °^ 
same way, every species - the dragonfly, the rhododendr ^ *** 
or that planet, etc. - has its absolute horizon). The U^' ^ 
Essence objectifies itself in its objects immediately - ivitj* 1 *^ 
process [sans proces, which also means 'without further °a* q 
Nothing is said in Feuerbach about the process by which '" 
objects of the human 'world' are produced; nothing is said ah 
labour, to which Hegel had assigned the crucially important ?* 
of producing the Works of Culture [Bildung], The Hum ? 
Essence is endowed with generic attributes, realized by vvav 
their objectification in objects that are the 'mirror' in which ma 
only ever has to do with his essence and nothing but his essence 
even when he thinks he has to do with God. Alienation is thus 
reduced, within the speculary equation 'subject = Object', to the 
mode of the meaning/direction [sens] of this identity - to be precise 
to a reversal of this meaning/direction. Man thinks that he is the 
object of a Subject, God, whereas he is the true Subject of his 
generic Object, that is to say, God, in whom he never discovers 
anything other than his own essence; simply, he discovers it in 
the form of a reversal of meaning/direction (in both senses of the 
word sens: direction = signification). 

Just as history as dialectical process disappears, to be replaced 
by the closed field of the absolute horizon of the speculary 
relation between the Human Essence and its objects (religion, par 
excellence, but also the sciences, art, philosophy, politics, the state, 
etc.), so, as a consequence, the dialectic too disappears, since it is 
superfluous. Because Man's generic essence is 'attributed' to the 
set of all men, past, present and future, all of them individuals 
constituted by the 'absolute' essence of Man, History has to seek 
refuge in the difference between individuals and the 'genus': tne 
attributes of the Human Essence that have not yet been realized 
will be in the centuries to come. Feuerbachian history is ** 
eternal present that needs an eternal supplement: the Futuf ■ 
With this sleight of hand, a 'bad infinity' in the Hegelian sense, 
Feuerbach makes short work of such history as remains fo r W^ 
and, by the same token, of the dialectic. 

Alienation, too, is distorted by this procedure. Aliena 
comes into play only in the speculary relation between 
Human Subject and the Objects in which its essence 


telv objectified - in the 'reversal' of their meaning/ 
3ii^ u [sens]. Alienation is no longer a process involving real 
di^ rrrLa tions, but an abstraction involving only significations. 
tr an5 .. [j ena tion of man is accordingly a mere 'reversal' of the 
Tft e 1/ f the meaning/ direction that binds Man to his 
reVt ce alienated/ realized in his Objects. This 'reversal of the 
& Y thus affects meaning /direction alone: it derives, in sum, 
feV a new, rectified awareness of what already exists in actu; it 
n sum, 'the right reading' of an already written text that 
15 nle have been reading the wrong way. It is hermeneutic in its 
• rv principle. If it has revolutionary overtones which suggest 
that the earth shall 'rise on new foundations', it nevertheless 
takes place entirely within consciousness, which has merely to be 
rectified: all the evils [maux] of humanity, said Feuerbach, to 
justify his total silence during the terrible years of the 1848-49 
revolutions, are ultimately only 'headaches' [maux de tite]. The 
destiny of humanity - and, a fortiori, of the working class - is 
decided not on the barricades but in a reform of consciousness 
and a recognition that the religion of God has from time immem- 
orial been nothing more than the religion of a Man ignorant of 
who he is. Thus Theoretical Humanism showed, in practice, 
what it had 'in its head': a petty-bourgeois ideology dissatisfied 
with Prussian despotism and the imposture of established 
religion, but frightened by the Revolution that its moral concepts 
had disarmed in advance. 

^ e may now turn back to Marx, in order to see what came of 

his encounter with Feuerbach. 

Feuerbach liked to call himself a 'communist' (the reign of 

Ve among men reconciled among themselves because recon- 

ed with their Essence). He seemed to furnish the Young 

e gelians with all they needed to break out of the theoretical 

a d-end into which history had driven them, offering them a 

0r y that explained the reason for existing Unreason b (the 

r adiction between reality and right, between the state of the 

ne original title of The Essence Christianity was Critique of Pure Unreason. 


world and Man). He gave them, as if by magic, a purchase on 
existing Unreason, demonstrating its necessity as the alienated 
Essence of Man. In pathetic, prophetic tones, he announced the 
New Age of Freedom and Human Brotherhood. 

We can readily understand what Engels meant when he 
recalled, fifty years later, this immense hope of having at last 
secured a purchase on the world: 'We were all Feurbachians'^ „ 
and they were enthusiastic Feuerbachians at that. The history of 
Marx's early works, between 1842 and 1845, is the history of this 
hope and this enthusiasm; then, after 1845, of a bitter disillusion- 
ment and an irreversible break. 

I would like to scan the essential moments of this history by 
simply commenting on a few key sentences that serve all our 
modem 'humanists' as alibis: 

1. Before the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx is, theoretically speak- 
ing, a Feuerbachian - with no qualifications. To be radical is to 
grasp the root of the matter. But for man the root is man 
himself/ 32 That sentence sums up his whole position. 

To which the usual objection runs: 'But Marx is no Feuerba- 
chian, because he discusses not just religion but also politics, law 
and the state, about which Feuerbach rarely speaks.' And our 
opponents hurl this famous sentence from the 'Contribution to 
the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law' (1843) at us: 'Man is 
no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world 
of man f the state, society/ 13 

I reply: this sentence is one hundred per cent Feuerbachian. 
Feuerbach does nothing else, from one end of The Essence of 
Christianity to the other, but describe the following equation: 
man is the world of man, the Essence of Man is the world of his 
objects, precisely by virtue of the speculary relation: Essence of 
the Subject (Man) = objectification of this Essence in his Objects, 
his human world, which includes the state as well as religion and 
a good deal else besides. 

In principle, then, Feuerbach says nothing other than what 
Marx repeats in 1843: man is not an abstract being (standard 
Feuerbachian fare), but a concrete being. If you want to knoW 
the essence of Man, look for it where it is to be found: in his 
Objects, his world. Only those who have not read Feuerbach, but 
have manufactured a cosy little idea of him for the purposes oi 


i-heif 'demonstrations', can imagine that there is in Marx's sen- 

nce so much as the trace of a trace of a theoretical innovation - 

ve r mind a theoretical revolution. 

To which the usual objection runs: but Feuerbach did not, as 
^j a rx does, put the emphasis on society, law, politics and, soon 
afterwards, the proletariat. This objection raises a question of 
principle about which we need to be perfectly clear. 

What is truly new in Marx's texts of this period is political 
interests and a political position of which Feuerbach was 
altogether incapable. But the fact that Marx took a new position 
has to do with his political development; for the moment, it has 
no effect whatsoever on his theoretical position, and changes not 
a single one of its terms. This new political position does, of 
course, shift the point of application of Feuerbach's Theoretical 
Humanism: we move from religion to politics. But what matters 
from the theoretical point of view, which is the only decisive point 
of view when one sets out to produce a history of the transfor- 
mations of a theory, is not the fact that one more object is subjected 
to a given theoretical treatment, and thus to a given theory. 
What matters is the theoretical treatment and the theory them- 
selves. In certain cases, treating one more object can precipitate 
changes in the theory, but then one must be able to show what 
those changes are, and to demonstrate that they are indeed real 
changes in the theory, not merely a change in the object to which 
one and the same theory is applied. No one has been able to 
identify such changes in the theory in 1843, and for good reason. 
Thus the present case falls under the general law. A theory no 
more changes its nature by treating an additional object than a 
capitalist who makes aeroplanes becomes a socialist by adding 
refrigerators to his product line. 

In the 'Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law 7 , as well as 'On 
the Jewish Question', Marx merely extends one and the same theory 
from religion to politics: the Feuerbachian theory of Man and 
a 'ienation. Who would deny that this investigation produces 
novel effects (a distinction between the rights of man and the 
n ghts of the citizen, a critique of the state as the alienated 
e *istence of man's generic being, even a theory of the proletariat 
^s the existence of the alienation of the Human Essence as 
^human Essence)? But the fact remains that these new effects 
0e Pend, in the final analysis, on Feuerbach's humanist theory, 


which they do not modify one iota. For example, Marx avow 
treats the state and politics as the 'heaven' of earthly existe ^ 
that is to say, precisely in the categories of Feuerbach's theo ^ 
religion. And even when he talks about revolution, he conce 
it in the Feuerbachian terms of disalienation: the public re ^ 
nition of a meaning that has been misunderstood because it w^ 
alienated, and thus as the 'confession' of what had be S 
shrouded in silence. 

After proclaiming, in the famous letter to Ruge of Septembe 
1843: 'thus nothing prevents us from tying our criticism to th 
criticism of politics and to a partisan position in politics, and 
therefore from tying it to real struggles and identifying it with 
them', Marx clearly indicates the sense of this critique: 

We can formulate the trend of our journal^ as being: fcelf-clarification 
(critical philosophy) to be gained by the present time of its struggles 
and desires. This is work for the world and for us. It can be only the 
work of united forces. It is a matter of a confession, and nothing more. 
In order to secure remission of its sins, mankind has only to declare 
them for what they actually are [Marx's emphasis]. 


Tying our criticism . to real struggles' is the effect of 
adopting a new political position. That this step forward in 
politics could bear within it theoretical consequences which 
would one day be taken into consideration is for us, now, certain. 
But the fact is that these potential theoretical consequences do 
not find expression anywhere in the theoretical positions that 
Marx adopted at the time. They do not change his theoretical 
positions in the slightest. We cannot avoid the difficulty with the 
argument of all the apologetics which explain ad nauseam that 
'the seeds' of these theoretical transformations are contained uj 
Marx's announcement of the shift in his political position, an 
that the only thing these 'seeds' lack is, in sum, that they have 
not yet sprouted, that is to say, have not yet found ex P 
theoretical expression. For we have to go so far as to say ^ 
these changes in Marx's political position did not induce / 
change at all in his theoretical positions, because his theore 
positions radically prevented him from even suspecting the ffl 
ible theoretical consequences whose 'seeds' were supp oSe ^ 
contained in his change of political position. What appears 
the 'seeds' of a possible theoretical transformation to us, 


w hat Marx later made of them, was for Marx, at the time, 
^I'nZ a * a ^' ^ e ^ eor y dominating his thinking ruthlessly 
n ° essed anything that could even remotely affect it: it reduced 
hat is f° r us ' see °ls', or a possibility, to nothing. But it would 
** better to say that it did not have to eliminate that possibility: 
theory was such that, for it, nothing was happening. That is 
hv Marx, after evoking those 'real forces', can placidly serve 
J\o us without any qualifications, or a moment's hesitation, 
his definition of revolutionary criticism as a public confession by 
Humanity of Humanity's sins. In Marx's political history, some- 
thing important has plainly happened: he has rallied to the real 
forces to which he aimed to 'tie' his critique, and with which he 
aimed to 'identify' it. In Marx's theoretical history, nothing has 
yet happened: therefore nothing happens. 

2. The situation is seriously transformed in the 1844 Manu- 
scripts. Marx's political position is now openly avowed: he is a 
communist. But his theoretical position, too, is marked by an 
event that is genuinely new and important. 

This event is not, as is usually supposed, the 'encounter' with 
Political Economy. For, from this standpoint, we relapse into the 
situation just mentioned. Feuerbach's theory of Man and aliena- 
tion is extended to one more object: after religion and politics, 
the economy. To be sure, the economy is not just the first object 
that happens to come along. Feuerbach had discussed the state 
and politics only hastily, but he had, after all, discussed them. 
He doubtless talked about the economy, if that is the word, in 
connection with the Jewish people, but only in order to repeat 
commonplaces about the 'practical needs' that dominate 'Jewish 
manV 7 In the 1844 Manuscripts, the Political Economy that is 
added' to the previous objects is no longer an absurdity: it is the 
olitical Economy of Smith and his successors (minus Ricardo: a 
ymptomatic omission) - in short, the Political Economy of the 
c °nornists, and, with it, all their categories: capital, labour, 

a ges, profits, rents, the division of labour, the market, and so 

However, as we have already shown c - but we will have to 

c 0tlc fading Capital, I, Ranciere's text Chapter 1 [Jacques Ranciere, 'Le 
pt de critique et la critique de 1'economie politique des Marmschts de 1844 


come back to this point - Marx, in the 2844 Manuscripts hri 
off the theoretical feat of criticizing the categories of the F<:o n- 
mists and Political Economy itself by subjecting them to th 
theoretical principles of Feuerbachian Humanism: Man and 
alienation. The speculary relation 'Essence of Man = Essence of 
his objects as objectification of his Essence', which is character- 
istic of Feuerbachian Humanism, dominates the whole theory of 
alienated labour. Through labour, Man objectifies his essence (his 
'essential forces', his 'generic forces'), which is externalized in 
the form of the products of his labour. Of course, we are dealing 
here with the production of real, material objects, not, as before 
of spiritual objects, such as God or the State. But the principle of 
alienation remains the same. It comes into play within the 
speculary relation: the worker (Subject) = his products (his 
Objects), or Man = the world of his objects. The < ffects that Marx 
derives from this application/extension of Feuerbachian theory 
to the objects of economic production and the categories of the 
Economists (which he considers, at this time, to be the categories 
of the economy, without for a moment calling them into question 
as he will later, in Capital) are, of course, new with respect to 
earlier discourses on religion and politics. But these effects do not 
affect the principles of the Feuerbachian theory of Man and 
alienation, or Man's Generic Essence (which Marx 'rediscovers' 
in, for example, the division of labour), and for good reason: 
they are its direct and necessary product. Thus the 'encounter 
with Political Economy (or, rather, with the categories of the 
Economists) does not in any way alter Feuerbach's theoretical 

The theoretical event specific to the 1844 Manuscripts is of a 
very different sort. It may be summed up in a phrase. 
intervention of Hegel in Feuerbach. . j 

I say 'in Feuerbach', that is, within the theoretical field den£ 
by Feuerbach's basic concepts, which are taken over as 
stand, and which this intervention does not modify, since it ^ 
place within the theoretical field delimited by them. Le 
examine this a little more closely. h a t 

What, of Hegel, is introduced into Feuerbach? Part ot 

au Capital, in Althusser et al., Lire le Capital, ed. fitienne Balibar, 1 a 
pp. 85-110 - Trans.]. 


feuerbach had eliminated from Hegel, and an important part at 
that: history as a dialectical process or process of alienation. This 
introduction of history has the effect of considerably altering the 
forms in which the Feuerbachian category of alienation operates. 
What is the Feuerbachian theoretical field into which history 
in the Hegelian sense is introduced? The field of the speculary 
relation 'subject = Object', or 'Generic Essence of Man = objects 
t the human world as objectification of the Essence of Man'. 
This theoretical field is left as it is: it is dominated by a Subject, 
Man, whose essential forces are objectified in the alienation of 
his Objects (in the 1844 Manuscripts this means, by virtue of what 
we have just said about the displacement of politics on to the 
categories of the Economists, in the products of human labour 
above all). 

Because we know what, of Hegel, is thus introduced into 
what we recognize to be Feuerbach's theoretical field, we can 
clearly state the result of this intervention. Once Hegelian His- 
tory, as a process of alienation , has been inserted into the speculary 
theoretical field 'subject (Man) = Object' (products of the human 
world with its various spheres: economics, politics, religion, 
ethics, philosophy, art, etc.), it inevitably takes the following 
form: History as the process of alienation of a Subject, Man. History 
in the 1844 Manuscripts is, in the strict sense this time - to repeat 
a phrase which, as we have already noted, cannot be Hegelian - 
'the history of the alienation (and disalienation) of rnan'. This phrase 
rigorously expresses the effect of Hegel's intervention in Feuer- 
bach, because the Hegelian concept of history as a process of 
alienation (or dialectical process) is theoretically subjected to the 
n °n-Hegelian category of the Subject (Man). Here we are dealing 
^th something that makes no sense at all in Hegel: an anthro- 
pological (or humanist) conception of history. 

This effect represents a considerable modification of the pre- 

lous Feuerbachian schema. History enters it, and, with history, 

^ e dialectic (the negation of the negation, the Aufliebung, and 

fgativity all function comfortably in it). With history and the 

alectic, the Hegelian conception of labour enters the schema as 

eli > realizing, as Marx sees it, the miraculous theoretical 

j c ° u nter between Hegel and Political Economy with the bless- 

• 8 of the Feuerbachian Essence of Man. Marx celebrates the 

n °ny prevailing at this Summit Conference of the Concept 


in terms that are touching in their naivety; or, if y ou 
their profundity. What has modern Political Economy ( re ?*' ^ 
Economists) accomplished? It has, says Marx, reduced 11" ^ e 
economic categories to their subjective essence: labour w? e 
extraordinary exploit has Hegel achieved ('in the Pheno 
ogy')? He grasps, says Marx, 'labour as the essence of m/'* 
Subject Man, Labour. Subject - Man = Labour. Man is +u 
Subject of history. The essence of Man is Labour. Labou • 
nothing other than the act of objectification of the Essentu 
Forces of Man in his products. The process of alienation of m 
externalizing his essential forces in products by means of labou 
is History. Thus everything enters into Feuerbach again, for 
very good reason: we have not left Feuerbach for a single second 

There is nothing surprising about this. Feuerbach is the host 
Political Economy and Hegel are his guests. He greets them and 
introduces them to each other, explaining that they belong to the 
same family (Labour). Everyone takes a seat, and the conver- 
sation begins: at Feuerbach' 's place. 

Is it seemly to disrupt this family reunion by pointing out that 
it is only thanks to a play on words that one can identify Smith's 
concept of labour with 'subjectivity', with Man as Subject, so as 
to make Smith "the Luther of Political Economy'? 3 * Is it decent to 
disrupt it by pointing out that if the concept of labour has its 
place in Hegel, it is never declared to be the essence of Man 
(even assuming that one can find a definition of the essence of 
Man in Hegel, whose definition makes man a 'sick animal', not 
a labouring animal'), for the very good reason that, labour being 
a moment in the process of the alienation of Spirit, it is no more 
the origin or subject of History than Man is? But no matter. 
What counts is not the plays on words, but the theoretical 
functions they fulfil. Their function is to seal the union 
Political Economy and the Hegelian dialectic in a Humane 
theory of History, as the alienation (and disalienation) of M 
the Subject of History. . a 

The upshot is the most extraordinary piece of theor 
ideology that Marx has bequeathed us, a text of excep ^ 
density and rigour: his only Hegelian text (in which the pu* , 
Hegelian dialectics is turned loose to go to work, to its n ^ 
content, upon the categories of Political Economy). ^ ut \j e gel 
Hegelian text in Feuerbach: this means, since Feuerbach is 



u nside down, that it is the one text in which we have a 
^■an 'inversion' of Hegel. 

M ar * ! if we want a sense of what has been termed the 

*tic(il Humanism with which Marx broke, we have to go 

fl ie ° . fcuerbach. If we want to understand just how far the 

W c of Feuerbach's Theoretical Humanism extends in Marx, we 

^r to recognize that, contrary to the self-interested opinions 

^,. g the rounds in certain circles, the 1844 Manuscripts is the 

^ in which this conception culminates and triumphs, reaching 

height of its power, inasmuch as it proves capable of subject- 

a the Hegelian dialectic and Political Economy in person to its 

No slick theoretical manoeuvring will allow us to avoid facing 

up to these observations, which, though elementary, have far- 
reaching consequences. In particular, people must, for good and 
all, stop telling us tales about Marx's break with speculative 
anthropology/* 1 while making believe that that term designates 
Feuerbach's theory. For the break with speculative anthropology, 
the credit goes not to Marx, but to Feuerbach, who, from 
beginning to end, never ceases to proclaim the merits of the 
concrete, real, corporeal, whole man, his feet firmly planted on 
solid ground, exercising all the powers of his nature, and so 
forth - as opposed to abstract, speculative (and so forth) man. 
The true question is not that of speculation (denouncing specu- 
lation does not get us very far: it rids us of certain myths, but 
does not yield, as such, any knowledge; the serious questions 
be gin to emerge only afterwards), but that of anthropology: a term 
w ruch masks the ideological enterprise we have discussed under 
e ^bric Theoretical Humanism (History as the process of the 
^nation of a subject, Man), and the corresponding philosophi- 
cal Presuppositions. 

n this perspective, notwithstanding all its 'concreteness' and 
. the 'human' 'richness' of its analyses, the 1844 Manuscripts is, 
°retically speaking, one of the most extraordinary examples 
Ba k° ta ' ^eoretical impasse that we have. If we take from Gaston 
elard the idea that certain concepts, or certain ways of 
bl f 1 ^ 3 problem, can constitute ' epistemological obstacles' that 
/ in whole or in part, the development of a theory, and if 
x amine, from this point of view, the proposition that epito- 
pe Manuscripts (History is the process of alienation of a 


Subject, Man), we arrive at a highly edifying result. Alie 
Subject, Man: three concepts, three 'epistemological obst^ **' 
Three concepts that will have to be cleared away so as to on '• 
a path for the one positive concept imprisoned in this iirm n . U P 
conceptual system, that of process (which, freed of the tram ^ 
of the subject and Man, will become 'the process without a sub' ^ 
It will be granted that a proposition comprising four cone 
three of which are epistemological obstacles, represents a bv 
means ordinary ideological concentration and 'blockage' h ° 
precisely, the extraordinary character of Marx's undertakine ' 
the 1844 Manuscripts which constitutes the interest, and also th 
critical character, of the text. 

By that, I do not mean to say that the Manuscripts has even 
the beginnings of objective critical value. I mean that it is the 
expression of a critical situation of extreme gravity, and that this 
critical situation of Theoretical Humanism is precipitated by 
Marx's undertaking itself, by his desire to think out to its logical 
conclusions the miraculous unity of this three-way encounter: 
Hegel and Political Economy in Feuerbach. Officially, everything 
comes off marvellously at this Summit Conference: Brother, 
behold thy Brother, says their common Father; be seated, and let 
us break the bread of the Concept. A Conference of Mutual 
Recognition and Unity, with full agreement about the World 
Revolution. In reality, this 'unitarian' conclave can only be 
explosive. For, as we have seen, the whole thing is rigged. 
Identities have been falsified: the Brother is not the Brother. As 
for the Father, who seems to have everything under control he 
is in reality barely able to keep on his feet. At the moment in 
which Marx is delivering the extraordinary Discourse of Unity 
known as the 1844 Manuscripts, the extreme theoretical tension 
of his discourse itself proves that it is a discourse not of criticising 
but of crisis. Everything is too beautiful; it can't be true. But this 
encounter, like this impossible Project, had to take place so tna 
the irresolvable crisis could come to a head and explode, an / 
this time, rock everything to its foundations. One might say/ 
parodying the well-known sentence: it is no longer a criti<l u ' 
but a radical crisis. To be radical is to grasp things by the too ♦ 
the root of the crisis is the crisis of Man. 

After the Manuscripts, it is all over with Feuerbach, It ta * 
time, a long time. But it is over. Theoretical Humanism 


itself for what it is: an imposture - not even a theory, but 
^vi ologi ca l makeshift. At the theoretical level, nothing: hot 
afl V)r rather, a major obstacle to theory, one that will have to 
a * f a'red away. On the ideological plane: an idle wish, unarmed 
& c j a ngerous. The idle wish of the petty bourgeoisie, which 
^ U id like to see things change, but doesn't want the change to 
VV ailed - or, rather, be - the Revolution. Theoretical Humanism 
d everything resembling it) is the theoretical disguise of run- 
f-the-n^ill petty-bourgeois moral ideology. Petty-bourgeois in 
, wor st sense of the word: counter-revolutionary. 

3 The rupture commences. It will be a long time before it is, 

they say, 'confirmed' For it is one thing to proclaim a rupture 
(which dates from the 'Theses on Feuerbach' and The German 
Ideolog}/); it is quite another to 'consummate' it. The 'rupture' 
will be consummated one step at a time over the long years that 
intervene between The German Ideology and Capital: a period 
punctuated in different ways by mutations that lead to the rise 
of the concepts of the new science and the categories of the new 
philosophy it bears within it. 

Let us single out and briefly gloss the essential moments of 
this punctuation, the history of the break with Theoretical 
Humanism. The 'Theses on Feuerbach', however brief (a few 
hastily scrawled, but deeply meditated sentences), show us what 
comes about [advient], and how it comes about. Feuerbach is 
directly challenged, in propria persona, and in two respects which 
(this is a new phenomenon) are, for the first time, sharply 
distinguished: with respect to his conception of Man, and with 
respect to his basic philosophical categories. 

Man. Let us recall the Sixth Thesis: 'The essence of Man is no 
wstraction inherent in the isolated individual In its reality, it is 
the ensemble of social relations/ 

to the history of Marxism, this brief dictum has met and 
^ntinues to meet, every day, the most edifying and the most 

Sur d fate imaginable. Calling it obscure and unintelligible 
°uld create a scandal. Everyone considers it clear - clear 

cause it is comprehensible. Not only does Marx say, in black 

u white, that man is not abstract, is not an abstract essence of 
nich the 'isolated individuals' would be the subjects (in the 

ls totelian sense), but he says something that 'rings true': the 


human essence is the ensemble of social relations, ty 

familiar ground: at the heart of historical materialism * re °n 

Yet we need only compare the interpretations of this 
which are at all precise to convince ourselves that it * u* eriCe 
means clear; worse, that it is literally incomprehensibl ^ n ° 
necessarily so. The reasons for this have to do with the f ' ^ 
Marx could not state what he was trying to say - not only b 
he did not yet know how to say it, but also because he p r p V &USe 
himself from saying it by dint of the simple fact that he b ^ 
his first sentence with the phrase 'the essence of Man' When * 
the first word one utters, one obstructs, with a gigantic 'e'nj f 
mological obstacle', the path that one is opening up with th 
intention of striking out on it, one can only come to a standstill 
or make singular detours to get around the obstacle. These 
detours are inscribed in this sentence, which necessarily goes 
uncomprehended, because it is incomprehensible. 

An example - a famous one, because we find a trace of it in 
Engels himself {the parallelograms of forces), 41 and, in black and 
white, in Gramsci. 42 'The essence of man is the ensemble of 
social relations' has been read and interpreted as follows: the 
essence of a human individual is constituted by the sum of social 
relations that he maintains in the society he lives in. The individ- 
ual is at, or is, the point of intersection of 'multiple social 
relations' If you want to know the essence of Mr X, add up and 
collate his familial, professional, political, ideological, sporting/ 
ornithological, etc., relations; Mr X is at their intersection, c\u& 
their result. I am not joking: much of contemporary sociology 
and psychosociology puts forward categories of this kind. Let us 
leave the absurd aspect of this interpretation to one side. It 
interesting despite this, because it reveals one of the meaning 
covered by the term Man: that of individual The kind of interp 
tation I have just evoked draws the Sixth Thesis in the direc 
of what we shall call the problem of the theory of individuality* 

It is clear, however, that in the sentence that constitutes 
Sixth Thesis, Marx has something completely different in» 
another meaning, a very different one, which is also cover ^ 
the term Man. This meaning throws up what we shall ca 
problem of the theory of society and the History of societies- 

Now Marx does not say: in order to produce a theory oj ^ 
it is necessary to consider, in their distinction, articulati 




'the ensemble of the (various) social relations'. Marx says: 
\jflW' A r to produce a theory 'of the essence of Man' . . . The 
in ° r . a j obstruction is to be found here, beginning with and 
th^° r fl rs t words. Once one has pronounced them, one can no 
in "* saV anything that taken literally, makes any sense what- 
lc>n ^ r To gi ve ^ s theoretically contorted sentence a meaning, 
^Yas to retrace, in reverse, the detour it had to make simply 

\det to be pronounceable. This is the detour I mean. It is 
1 ssary to have done with Feuerbach, and therefore with what 
n ncludes in the human essence. It is not enough to say, as in 
ift43 Man is the world of Man, society, the state. The world of 
an is not the objectification of his essence; it is not mere 
Objects; it consists of altogether astounding realities: relations, 
taken in their 'ensemble' However, something of Feuerbach 
remains even in this innovation: namely, that which Feuerbach 
called the generic essence of man, the 'ensemble' of men, which 
the 1844 Manuscripts showed to be at work in the 'relations' of 
the division of labour and other practical categories of Political 
Economy. It is on account of this concept, which is absent from 
his sentence {the human genus), that Marx can write this imposs- 
ible sentence: 'The human essence is no abstraction inherent in the 
isolated individual, but the ensemble of social relations/ 43 'The 
human essence' clearly aims at (since it avoids the individual) 
the problem of the structure of society, but by way of the 
Feuerbachian concept of human genus. Unless this concept of 
human genus (which is itself a fine example of an epistemological 
obstacle) has been eliminated, it is only possible to produce 
contorted sentences that are literally incomprehensible. 

But we have gained something here: we have learned to 
Winguisli two problems. 

W the problem of a theory of society (and history); 
t 11 ) the problem of a theory of individuality (of that which is 
usually called the human individual). 

W e Ha i 

to u ° § a * nec ^ something from seeing that the access route 

nese two problems was blocked by two epistemological 

a cles: the concept of Man and the concept of human genus. 

k u * something else happens in the 'Theses on Feuerbach': the 

|j Philosophical categories defining the field of Theoretical 

a nism as that of the speculary Subject-Object relation are 


called into question. Theses 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9 explicitly call ir^ 
question the nature of the concepts that sustain this field: Subject 
and Object. 

The Object: Feuerbach's failing is to have 'conceived sensuous- 
ness (die Sinnlichkeit) only in the form of the object . but not as 
concrete human activity ' (First Thesis); ' . he does not con- 
ceive the sensuous world as man's concrete practical activity' 
(Fifth Thesis). 

The Subject: it must be conceived as historical and social praxis. 

The couple constituted by the categories Subject-Object is 
thus no longer originary. The Theses bring into play, at a deeper 
level than this couple, the category of historical praxis. 

Philosophically, this transformation is important. It effectively 
means that Marx is drawing certain conclusions from his break 
with Feuerbach's Theoretical Humanism, bearing on both the 
typical categories constitutive of the field of the speculary rela- 
tion and the operation essayed in the Manuscripts: Hegel in 
Feuerbach. Indeed, to go beyond the Feuerbachian couple 'sub- 
ject = Object' by means of historical praxis is to extricate Hegel 
from the narrow constraints of the couple 'subject = Object'; it is 
to set the Hegelian dialectic to work on the Feuerbachian con- 
cepts of Subject and Object themselves. Historical praxis is the 
concept of a theoretical compromise, in which, this time, the 
previous relationship is modified: historical praxis is what 
remains of Feuerbach in a certain Hegel; it is, very precisely, the 
transformation of the Subject into praxis, and the historicization 
of this subject as subject. 

This transformation is very important, for it provides the key 
to the philosophy that dominates the whole of The German Ideology: 
the historicism of the Subject. The category of the Subject is 
maintained. There is a subject, or there are several subjects, of 
history. The German Ideology will say: it is individuals, it is 'men 
- read, real men - who are the subjects of history. But they are 
not abstract subjects standing outside history; they are them- 
selves historical in nature, and are affected by the historicity °* 
the history whose subjects they are. This is a very special sort or 
theoretical compromise: history is no longer contained within the 
field delimited by Subject and Object; it transcends these limits 
(Subject-Object) and invests them with historicity, while respit- 
ing their status of Subject and Object. What holds for the subject 


i s o holds for the object Every object is historicized in its turn: 

atu re is thoroughly historical, transformed by human praxis. 44 

K| t only nature, but also science itself; not only the subjects of 

history, but also the subjects of the knowledge of history, and 

the knowledge of history itself. 

The historicism of The German Ideology would later weigh very 
heavy on the history of Marxist theory. It is no historical accident 
t hat this historicism is always associated, wherever it is pro- 
fessed in Marx's name, with a Humanist Ideology. For, in the 
formation of Marx's thought, the historicism of the Theses on 
Feuerbach' and The German Ideology is nothing other than a new 
relationship between a so-called 'Hegelian' conception of history 
and the Feuerbachian Humanist categories of Subject and Object. 
This new relationship is a modification of the old one (that of 
the Manuscripts). Hegel in Feuerbach becomes, in the Humanist 
Historicism of the 'Theses' and The German Ideologi/, (what is left 
of) Feuerbach in (a certain) Hegel. 

4. Thus we can readily see which philosophical conception, still 
haunted by concepts which originate in the enterprise of the 
1844 Manuscripts, presides over The German Ideology. 

I mean, of course, the conception (not made explicit as such) 
that reigns in The German Ideology, not the conception of philos- 
ophy that The German Ideology puts forward in black and white. 
For The German Ideology makes no bones about the matter: it 
radically suppresses all philosophy as sheer ideological illusion, 
dream, chimera, bred by the alienation of the division of labour; 
and, in the space thus cleared, it installs science alone. 45 All that 
remains of what is declared to be philosophy comes down to the 
spontaneous ideology of science: that is to say, an empiricism of 
the given, facts, the 'real', the 'concrete' (it is still doing quite 
w ell, thank you), baptized 'materialism' in The German Ideology. 
We shall conclude from this that if The German Ideology is 
interesting from the standpoint of historical materialism, whose 
basic elements it expounds, albeit in what is still an extremely 
infused form, it is distinguished by the total absence of what 
^Ul be called, in the Marxist tradition, dialectical materialism, the 
n ew philosophy that Marx's great scientific discovery bears 
Within it. 

Indeed, what is to be said of the scientific concepts which, in 


The German Ideology, announce the scientific discovery tk 
sists in the opening up of the 'continent' of History \ ^ c °*v 
edge? What is their state here, in a situation dominated ^ ^ 
absence of any new philosophy whatsoever? V the 

Between the 1844 Manuscripts and The German Ideology 
occurred a small event whose importance has been apnr ' e 
by only a small handful of specialists:' 1 the publication of c • 
ner's The Ego and His Own (1845). What interests us about ^ 
text? The fact that it helped shatter the Hegelian** category f ju 
breaking it down into two component elements: on the " 
hand, an empirical concept, the real, singular, concrete et * 
individual; and, on the other, the religions Idea of Man. Stirn 
arrives at this result by categorically accusing Feuerbach of neve 
getting beyond the limits of religion, but simply replacing God 
with Himself in calling Him Man, In The Ego and His Own, this 
accusation takes the form of an argument which it is hard to 
refute; it shows that Feuerbachian Humanism (if not all human- 
ism), and therefore atheistic Humanism (all atheistic humanism), 
is merely a form of religious ideology, the modern form of 
religion. Marx and Engels were deeply affected by this charge. 47 
With Stirner's demonstration as a starting point, something new 
was acquired at the theoretical level: Man and Humanism were 
now seen to designate something which, contrary to what Marx 
and Engels had previously supposed, was the very opposite of 
the real, concrete, and so on; Man and Humanism were the stuff 
of priests' tales, a moral ideology of an essentially religious 
nature, preached by petty bourgeois in laymen's dress. 

Man was thus dealt a mortal blow. The murder exposed the 
presence, under this old term constitutive of Theoretical Human- 
ism, of three realities, or problems, or indices of problems: 

(i) the individual (the problem of a theory of individuality)/ 
(ii) society (the problem of a theory of society and history)/ 
(iii) an ideology (the problem of a theory of ideology " 
particular, of the ideological concept of Man and 
Humanist Ideology, that is, of Humanism as Ideology^- 

d In France, Henri Arvon [Arvon, Aux sources de t existent lalisme: AM* 
Paris, 1954], 


ainst the background provided by the first stages of the 
It l3 'settling of accounts' [Abrechnung] now under way, 48 and 
$*\ se now established distinctions, that we must try to see 

V laments of the concepts of historical materialism produced 
^Tfic German Ideology. 

W have said that the subject of history was historicized in The 

nan Ideology. Strikingly, it is no longer Man who, in The 

~+ni(M Ideology, is the Subject of History, but real, empirical 

'jjvjditals, endowed with certain forces, living in concrete socio- 
hstorical conditions, and producing, by putting 'their produc- 
tive forces' to work in 'relations of mutual commerce' 4 ' 
lyerkehrsvcrhtiltnisse, Verkehrsformen], that with which to satisfy 
their own vital needs in their material-life-process [Lebensprozefi]. 

Over against these real, empirical, concrete, etc., individuals, 
who are the basic 'premisses' for the new conception of history 
(which is not 'devoid of premisses'), 30 and are thus the always 
present origin, the always contemporaneous [act uel] subjects of a 
history that is their very production, in which they objectively 
externalize their 'essential forces' in a process of alienation that, 
as a result of the division of labour (instrument and name of 
alienation), separates them from their products and their con- 
ditions of existence, which then dominate them as an alien force 
(alienation effect) - in a word, standing over against these 
individuals, we no longer find Man. 

Man, in The German Ideology, is an Ideology pure and simple. 

He is the 'slogan' and 'rally ing-cry' [mot d'ordre] of an impotent 

moral protest, that of the German petty-bourgeois intellectuals 

w ho, incapable of making anything at all that looks like History, 

gain a form of verba. 1 assurance over it and take verbal revenge 

° n it in the name of what they dream of being: Man, the essence 

°f History. In short, Man has ceased to be a fundamental, 

Clonal category that renders History intelligible; on the con- 

ary, M an j s an irrational, derisory, hollow notion, which, 

ec ause it is ideological, is by its very nature incapable of 

^plaining anything whatsoever, but has itself to be explained, 

, a * is, reduced to what it is: the religious impotence of a 

, iculous 'wish' to take part in a History that does not give a 

. an W about the petty bourgeois who want to lay down the law 

Jt A vain, empty discourse, Man is, in essence, the diversion- 
v tactic of a reactionary ideology. 


Of course, things are not that simple - by which I mea 
this does not yet settle the most important questions. The G 
Ideology does not say that the individual (a category a/T^ 
divested of the ideology of Man) is the index and the nam * St 
theoretical problem that must be posed and resolved. Fo u 
empiricism of The German Ideology, the individual is not a n u 
lem for a single second; on the contrary, it is the solution it 
but its own solution. The individual is that which one sets out fr ' 
the commencement the given, the subject, that 'which pop 
without saying', since he is a 'sensuously perceptible realitv' 
What does one 'see' in History? Individuals. 'Individuals have 
always started out from themselves [von sick ausgegangen].'* 2 cw 
need only do the same. Let us, then, start out in our turn in the 
theory of individuals, and show 'what arises' when we follow 
their tracks [quand on les suit h la trace], in an empirical genesis 
worthy of them - when we track the products of the utilization 
(extemalization/ alienation) of their 'productive forces' in their 
'life-process'. When we do this, we observe the genesis 5 * ('gene- 
tico-critical', 'genetico-empirical' - Feuerbachian expressions) of 
the Productive Forces and the Relations of Production, whose unity 
constitutes the mode of production of the material life of the 
aforementioned individuals; we observe the genesis of property 
forms (relations of production), followed by that of social classes, 
the state, and Ideology (their 'consciousness'). 

Despite these genuinely new words, which are the first ele- 
ments of the concepts of historical materialism, we are still 
caught in a transcription of what still subsists of Feuerbach. If the 
Productive Forces are so often said to be the 'productive forces 
of the individuals 7 , this is because they are still bound up with 
the Feuerbachian concept of the essential Attributes or essential 
Forces of the Human Essence, which has become the individual, 
the individuals. If the Relations of production are conceived only 
within the concept of Verkehrsverhaltnisse-, if, therefore, this rd a " 
Hon is conceived within the category of 'mutual commerce 
[Verkehr], and thus of an inter-individual relation, it is because tfl 
individuals are still vaguely or explicitly conceived as the su 
jects constitutive of all social relations. m * 

Indeed, Man himself haunts even the extraordinary ^ 
theory of communism, 34 in which the individuals, at last freed 
the alienation whose historical authors (subjects) they are, 


. f[ ts t time become truly 'free 7 , non-'contingent' individu- 
fa r nnS tituted by pure inter-individual relations - that is, deliv- 
$' f rQtn the Social Relations (of production, and other relations 
efC ell) in which they had heretofore made and, simultaneously, 
a * n subjected to their history. 

^There is further reason to believe that Man continues, despite 
rvthi n 8' t0 we igh heavy on the individual, even the histori- 
C > e d individual, of The German Ideology: it appears when we 
C bserve that the notion of alienation is still present and active in 
rtiis text in the guise of the division of labour. In order that the 

dividual ma y b e f ree a t last, in order that the communist 
revolution can set him free, all the labour of History is required 
- that is to say, all the labour of the process of alienation. In the 
diffuse Hegelianism of The German Ideology, we remain the 
prisoners of a notion of the necessity of alienation, hence of a 
teleology of the process, hence of a process with a subject. This 
subject is the individuals. They are, on the one hand, declared to 
be empirical and historical, and the definition of them proclaims 
that it can do without the idea of Man altogether. But because, 
on the other hand, the individuals are the subjects of a process of 
alienation, and thus of a teleological process, it is once again a 
question, necessarily, of History as the history of the alienation 
of a subject: the individuals. Man is, to be sure, condemned in 
the broad daylight of criticism. But he lurks behind the theoreti- 
cal scenes, constituting individuals as subjects of the process of 
alienation of their 'forces'. Thus he is waiting at the End of this 
process to welcome the individuals to the freedom whose con- 
cept he has been from the very start 

Ultimately, the individuals cannot escape this discrete but 
terribly effective control by ./an until Marx abandons his empir- 
lcist convictions in order to think the individual, not as a subject 
0r principle of explanation of the social structure that is in itself 
cl wr, but as an obscure object that needs to be defined and a 
Problem that has to be resolved - to begin with, a problem that 
as to be properly posed. In order to understand the individual 

an d, a fortiori, the social structure - one must start out now, 
°* from the individual, but from the social structure. The notion 

lr »dividual is therefore in its turn an epistemological obstacle 

n ° mean proportions. 

^hat is why The German Ideologi/ is such an equivocal work. 


Something new is certainly going on in it; Marx was not 
taken when he identified it as the place where his discovery**^ 
born, amid his rupture with 'his former philosophical * S 
science' The novelty of The German Ideology finds expressi °^~ 
concepts which, it is true, are christened with new names (m T 
of production, productive forces, social relations, etc.), y e f. e 
still governed by philosophical categories that have remained h * 
cally unchanged: after those of the Hegel-Feuerbach theoreti 1 
compromise (Feuerbach and a certain anthropological Hegelia 
ism), after the major crisis of the 1844 Manuscripts in the 'These 
on Feuerbach', a historicist - that is to say, still humanist 

In the light of this conclusion, one can doubtless readily see 
what is meant by what I have called the absence of dialectical 
materialism in The German Ideology. In The German Ideology, the 
break with the past begins on the terrain of the science of history. 
But the break with the past on the terrain of philosophy has yet 
to begin. Presence, for the first time, of historical materialism; 
absence of [dialectical] materialism: 55 one sees the effects of this 
in the confusion of the concepts I have analysed. But the most 
pertinent effect of this unstable conjuncture is the theory of 
ideology that The German Ideology gives us. 

The German Ideology talks incessantly about ideology; that is 
its subject par excellence. And it proposes a theory of ideology: 
ideology is an effect of alienation (of the division of intellectual 
labour separated from manual labour). Ideology is literally 
nothing, the empty (and inverted: the camera obscura), exact 
reflection of what takes place in the real world. Once again, a 
reversal of meaning/direction [sens], with this little supplement 
this meaning is perfectly superfluous. Prior to the division o 
labour (manual and intellectual), there was no ideology- [ s, ° 
will there be any ideology under communism (the end of ane ^ 
ation, thus the end of ideology and all the 'idealistic humbug )• 
The proof? We already have it in the proletariat, which long a S 
threw all ideology, religion, philosophy, etc., overboard, m 
respect, it is already, in itself, communism. Like the p r0 ^ afl 
who have rid their lives of Ideology, The German Ideology P 
claims the elimination of philosophy. The end of all ideoiog ^ ^ 
the end of all abstractions: the real, the concrete, the etnp ir ^ 
there you have truth, the only truth there is. No wonder tn 


theory of science in The German Ideology: a theory of science 

n ° be produced only in a philosophy. In all of this, with the 

Ca difi ca ^ on e ^ ectec ^ by a ra dical historicist empiricism which 

j 1 da res ^ at ^ an * s mere ideology, and that ideology is nothing, 

ar e still within the philosophical legacy of Feuerbach. 

fhe break with Feuerbach has been announced and initiated. 
Rut this break, too, is a process, which is only just beginning. It 
has not yet been consummated. 

VVe can follow the stages of this process in The Manifesto, The 
poverty of Philosophy, the Contribution, and Capital. I shall not go 
into detail; I shall go straight to the end of the process. 

5. To present Marx's break with theoretical humanism, one 
can, as 1 have just done in broad outline, scan the essential 
moments in its history. But one can also, after first clearly 
establishing the theoretical contents which Marx took as his 
starting point, turn to the end of this history, and take an 
inventory [constat: literally, a bailiff's report] of the new theoreti- 
cal contents, noting the presence or absence of the concepts that 
originally featured in the system characteristic of Theoretical 

It then becomes easy to show that - apart from a few isolated 
and isolatable, and in any case highly localized, survivals - the 
categories constitutive of Theoretical Humanism have in fact 
disappeared from Capital. This is a relatively simple question: all 
that is involved is a theoretical inventory. Obviously, it calls for 
the sort of bailiff who is thoroughly familiar with the special 
*^nd of object of which he must make an inventory, and can 
therefore be relied on not to take mere words for scientific 
incepts or philosophical categories, as often occurs in polemics. 

Let us sum up the results of this inventory; anyone can verify 
th *m for himself. 

A The science of history. The science of history does not take 
s *ts object the essence of man, or the human genus, or the 

sence of men, and so forth. The object of the science of history 

the history of the forms of existence specific to the human 
s Peci es . 

1 he^ 7 specific difference that distinguishes the forms of exist- 

u Ce °f the human species from those of animal species is (1) 

human beings live exclusively in social formations; and (2) 



that these human social formations have specific histories wk- 
as such, are governed not by the biological and ecological i ^' 
of the species, as 'animal societies' are, but by the 'social' l a aVVs 
the production, and the reproduction of the conditions of » r J °* 
Hon, of the means of existence of these social formations. ^ C " 

If we consider the theoretical system of its fundamental 
cepts, the science of history is no more based on notions \v 
man, human species, men, individuals, and so on, than its obi 
is the essence of Man, and so forth. The fundamental concepts f 
the theory of the science of the history of social formations ar 
the concepts of mode of production, productive forces and 
relations of production (and their unity), juridico-political super- 
structure, ideological superstructure, determination in the last 
instance by the economy, relative autonomy of the instances 
and so on and so forth. 

We are plainly on a completely different 'continent' and in a 
completely different theoretical universe, one that no longer has 
anything to do with the ideological universe of the 1844 Manu- 
scripts, or even The German Ideology, in which some of these new 
concepts do feature. It is no longer a question of saying that 
Man is the root of Man and the essence of all the Objects of his 
human world. It is no longer a question of 'starting out from 
individuals' who 'have always started out from themselves", as 
in The German Ideology, and tracing the effects of an empirical, 
constitutive genesis with a view to 'engendering', with 'the 
forces of individuals 7 as one's point of departure, Productive 
Forces, Relations of Production, and so on. It is no longer a 
question of starting out from the 'concrete' in theory, from the 
well-known 'concrete' concepts of Man, men, individuals with 
'their feet firmly planted on solid ground', nations, and so on. 
Quite the contrary: Marx starts out from the abstract, and says so. 
This does not mean that, for Marx, men, individuals, and their 
subjectivity have been expunged from real history. It means tha 
the notions of Man, etc., have been expunged from theory, *&' 
in theory, no-one has yet, to my knowledge, met a flesh-ancij 
blood man, only the notioti of man. Far from being able to foufl 
and serve theory, these ideological notions have only one effe c • 
they foreclose theory. These notions of Theoretical Humarus 
have been eliminated from Marx's scientific theory, and 
have every right to eliminate them, root and branch - f° r t 


D le reason that they can act only as 'epistemological obstacles' 

To P ut '* plainly: we need to say once and for all to all those 
th0 like Feuerbach and the Marx of the Manuscripts, and even, 
^11 too often, the Marx of The German Ideology (the most contrary 
f these texts, because it is the hardest to handle and to quote 
• nth total legitimacy [de plein droit]), are constantly harping about 
lian, men, the real and the concrete, and hope to impose the use 
of these notions in theory as the basic concepts of the science of 
history - we need to tell them once and for all that this idealist 
blackmail and unbearable, if not criminal, demagoguery have 
gone on long enough. For their jeremiads will never provide 
even the beginnings of the kind of knowledge that is useful to 
real men, with whom Marx continued to concern himself 
throughout his life; it was in order to provide them with real 
and not merely verbal services that he forged the concepts that 
are indispensable for producing the means of understanding 
their real existence, and really transforming it. For if these 
humanist discourses do not yield any knowledge, they certainly 
do have the catastrophic effect of dragging us back to pre-Marxist 
positions and a petty-bourgeois ideology which, in our day and 
age, cannot be anything but revisionist and reactionary. 

B. The same holds for Marxist philosophy. Its basic philosophi- 
cal concepts are not Man, the Subject, the Cogito (even in the 
plural - the 'we'), the act, the project, praxis and creation - all 
notions that people, communist philosophers included, are today 
hauling out of the old reserves of idealism: not of critical idealism 
(which at least had its grandeur, for it modelled itself on science), 
but of spiritualist idealism (the most reactionary form of idealism, 
because it is craven enough to model itself on religion), 58 

The basic categories of Marxist philosophy (dialectical mate- 
rialism) are materialism and the dialectic. Materialism is based, 
n °t on the ideological n^ ^ons of Subject and Object, but on the 
distinction between matter and thought, the real and knowledge 
°f the real - or, to put it differently and more precisely, the 
distinction between the real process and the process of knowledge; 
° n the primacy of the real process over the process of knowl- 
edge; on the knowledge-effect produced by the process of 
^owledge in the process of correlating [dans le proems de mise en 
Cor respondance] the process of knowledge with the real process. 


As Lenin said, materialism studies the history of the 'pass* 
from ignorance' (or ideology) to 'knowledge' (or science) a 
to that end, has to produce the theory of the different practic 
those that operate in knowledge, those that serve as a basis f S 
theoretical practice, and so on. The dialectic determines the law 1 
which govern these processes (real process and process f 
knowledge) in their dependence (primacy of the real proces ^ 
and their relative autonomy, and so forth. 

Given what has been said about the lag of Marxist philosophy 
with respect to the science of history, every informed Marxist 
philosopher is well aware that the danger of theoretical revision* 
ism always has been, and still is, greater in philosophy than in 
the science of history. Ideology abhors a vacuum, and since 
every 'lag' is a vacuum, it rushes to fill it. This is one more 
reason to struggle against ideology with lucidity and resolve, 
and to take back, inch by inch, in the face of all idealist and 
spiritualist inanities and the eclectic makeshifts and bricolages 
currently in fashion - compared with which Feuerbach's incoher- 
ence is a high point of thought and a model of rigour - the 
ground that, by all rights, belongs to Marxist philosophy. Our 
primary theoretical, ideological and political (I say political) 
duty today is to rid the domain of Marxist philosophy of all the 
'Humanist' rubbish that is brazenly being dumped into it. It is 
an offence to the thought of Marx and an insult to all revo- 
lutionary militants. For the Humanism in Marxist philosophy is 
not even a distinguished form of the bourgeois philosophy that 
has taken up residence in Marx: it is one of the vilest by-products 
of the most vulgar modern religious ideology. We have long 
been aware that its effect, if not its objective, is to disarm the 

These, then, are the results of the method of taking an 
inventory Nothing for it: as Hegel himself said (but he had tn e 
consolation of saying it as he stood looking up at the mountain^- 
that is how it is. 

6. Before examining the theoretical consequences o f 
inventory, I should like to consider once again the princip 
that command, or are suggested by, my very brief ana v sl n 
the moments punctuating the theoretical history of the forma 
of Marx's thought. 


1 said/ before embarking on these analyses, that in order to 
rV them out with certainty, we should have to have at our 
c o5 al the principles of a theory of the history of theories that 
s n ot yet exist. But the conditions for producing this theory 
^ t be reduced to extending to the history of theories (ideol- 
£j eS , sciences, philosophy) the conceptual system at our dis- 
mal for thinking the history of social formations. Of course, 
because what is involved is in every case a theory of history, we 
hall have to borrow, from what we already have by way of a 
theory of the history of social formations, all that it can furnish 
u s for thinking the history of theories. Yet this work, pursued on 
the existing theoretical bases, can in no case provide us, by itself, 
^e knowledge of our specific object. We must study this specific 
object for itself, in its concrete formations; that is to say, we must 
work on the concrete data of the history of theories, giving 
preference to the examples and segments of this history which 
we have good reason to consider pertinent, that is, inherently 
rich in determinations that will provide us with the key to other 
phenomena. It is reasonable to suppose that those moments in 
the history of theories when new sciences irrupt, especially when 
these sciences are 'continental', are relevant to our purposes. 
That is why I believe that the study of the formation and 
transformations of Marx's thought can also be of direct relevance 
to the development of this theory of the history of theories 
we require. 

I therefore propose very briefly to reconsider a few of the 
concepts that I have used in the analyses in which I have 
attempted to scan the history of Marx's thought: the opposition 
science /ideology, the 'break', and so on. I believe that I can, in 
this way, begin to respond to some of the often legitimate 
Cr iticisms that have been addressed to me. 

To begin with, a word on the science /ideology opposition, 

^hich gives the concept of 'epistemological break' its meaning. 

Ve n when it is hedged round with all the precautions that 

es cue it from contamination by the 'Enlightenment' opposition 

.^hveen truth and ideology/ the opposition between science and 

eology. crudely formulated, cannot not be generally under- 

°°d as Manichaean and, therefore dogmatic. From the ideologi- 

^ Reading Capital, vol. 1, p. 56 [RC 43]. 


cal point of view, this opposition effectively fulfils its role- 
of drawing, in the present conjuncture, a clear, authoritative /• 
of demarcation between the scientific demands that Marv ^ e 
should make and the easy options and demagoguery of e H ^ 
cism and theoretical revisionism. 5 ^ Drawing this line of d em 
cation was an urgent necessity and there can be absolutely T " 
question of repudiating it. From a theoretical point of vie ° 
however, it is essential that we do not content ourselves with 
formulation that is ideological in nature but, rather, advanc 
more precise propositions that are appropriate for thinking thi 
opposition, in that they provide a more specific account of it. 

Let us again take the example of the ideological nature of 
Theoretical Humanism. To begin with, it is clear that that which 
characterizes the fundamental notions of Theoretical Humanism 
as ideological can be stated only retrospectively [apr£s coup]. If Marx 
had not produced the new concepts appropriate for thinking the 
object of his discovery, we would not be able to pronounce the 
Judgement of ideology that we apply to the notions with which 
he had to break. The ideology/ science opposition is thus always 
based on a retrospection or recurrence. It is the existence of science 
itself which establishes the 'break' in the history of theories 
which can then serve as grounds for declaring the prehistory of 
science ideological. 

This break and this retrospection are, however, the correla- 
tives of a real process, that of the constitution of science (born in 
ideology) through theoretical work that leads up to a critical 
point which explodes in a break, instituting the new field in 
which the science will establish itself. Whence a paradox: science 
is plainly born of ideology and in ideology - yet the ideology o* 
which science is born as it tears itself away from ideology can be 
given the name of ideology only by the science born of it aw 
separated from it. 

A long train of important consequence follows. I will mentio 
just two: 

(i) The first has to do with the nature of the 'break' Certain 

pertinent signs that manifest both the extreme tension o* 

desperately sought, impossible synthesis (the 1844 Manuscript 

and the sudden release of tension due to an unpreceden 

conceptual mutation (the "Theses on Feuerbach' and The Gerfl 

i_- like a 
Ideolooy) make it possible to assign the break something lirw 


(1845); but the break is never anything more than the 
winning of an event of very long duration which, in a sense, 

eV er ends. 

Here, then, I would like to rectify what was obviously too 

t-and-dried in the indications I gave in my essay, for which I 
have quite rightly been criticized. Of course, the corrections I 
make here remain descriptive: they do not constitute even the 
njdiments of a theory of the break, on which one of us will soon 
publish an essay. 60 However, what I have too briefly said about 
the 'Theses' and The German Ideology does show that if the 
'liquidation' that Marx consciously announces is plainly set in 
motion in these texts, it is only just set in motion; the work 
essential for truly clearing the theoretical space in which, twenty 
years later, Capital will unfold has yet to be carried out. The 
'break' is therefore itself a process of very long duration com- 
prising dialectical moments: a detailed study of them, and com- 
parison with studies of the other great 'breaks' that we have 
enough documentation to broach (for example, the break 
effected by Galileo), will perhaps bring out what is typical of all 
of them, and what is specific to each. The study of the moments 
constitutive of a 'break' of this kind (the kind that inaugurates 
the opening of a new 'continent') could constitute a theory of the 
process of the 'break'; it could also bring out the m m essity of the 
successive reorganizations (moments) or secondary breaks 
which, via the appearance, definition and resolution of a series 
of new problems, lead a science from its beginnings to its 
maturity by way of its maturation. 

This conception of the 'break' as process is not a backhanded 
w ay of abandoning the concept of the break, which certain critics 
a re only too happy to invite us to do. 1 That it takes time for the 
break' to be consummated in its process by no means prevents 
rt from being well and truly an event in the history of theory, one 
whose beginnings, like those of any other event, can be dated with 
Precision. In Marx's case, the date is 1845 (the 'Theses', The 
German Ideology). 

This event is an event of long duration, and if in one sense it 
Nearly has a beginning, in another it has no end. For science, 
w hich is born in and of the ideology from which it tears itself 

' Semprun, Bottigelli, etc. 


away, is not, once born, securely established in its domain 
it inhabited some pure, closed world in which it had to do S " 
with itself. For as long as it lives, it works unceasingly on a 
material that is always affected, in one way or another ^ 
ideology; and it expands only by conquering 'areas' or 'obil \ 
designated by notions which its conquest makes it possibl § 
describe, retrospectively, as ideological Thus the work of critici ° 
and of the transformation of the ideological into the scientifi 
which inaugurates any science, never ceases to be the appointed 
task of established science. No science is ever anything more than 
continuing Break, punctuated by further, internal breaks. 

(ii) If this is correct, then we can turn back to the period 
'before' the break, and study the specificity of the process that 
produced it. Here, too, we come up against a very important 
theoretical problem; we can make progress towards solving it 
only at the price of meticulous investigations. What type of 
necessity produces, in the history of theories, the rise of a 

Permit me simply to call attention to a singular 'coincidence'. 
I have cited Lenin's thesis to the effect that historical materialism 
came about as an effect of the encounter of three disciplines: 
German philosophy, English political economy, and French 
socialism. This thesis may perhaps be related to the triple 
theoretical encounter which occurs in the 1844 Manuscripts, in the 
way I have described. Let us recall the names of the three 
theoretical personages present at this encounter: Hegel, Political 
Economy, Feuerbach. The one item on Lenin's list that is missing 
here is French socialism. But, in the light of the insistence with 
which Feuerbach proclaimed that the Human Revolution would 
be born of the union of revolutionary French materialism and 
German idealism, and in the light of the fact that he regarded 
himself as the philosopher of the heart (which is French and 
revolutionary) and declared himself a 'communist', it is n° 
impossible to consider him, at least to some extent, as the symbol! 
representative of French Utopian socialism in the Encounter ° 
the Manuscripts.^ One day, perhaps, we will be able to den 
from this figure of the encounter certain elements for a theory 
the process by which the 'break' was produced. 





hould now like to begin to examine some of the real probl 
hat Ma rx ' s rupture with Theoretical Humanism has brought to 
ivrht. This examination will concern not only Marx but also, as 

e shall soon see, most of the 'theoretical' arguments advanced 
bv most of my critics. 

' What justifies the parallel? The fact that some modern 
'Humanists' have once again taken up precisely those notions that 
Marx had to eliminate from the field of his reflections as so 
many epistemological obstacles: Man, the Human Genus, the indi- 
vidual, the subject, and so on. 

To avoid all ambiguity (experience proves that one can never 
take too many precautions in these matters), we need to be 
perfectly clear about the object and bases of this examination, as 
well as the justification for it. 

The examination I shall proceed to make is a purely theoretical 
one. 1 do not propose to examine the nature and social function 
of Humanism as an ideology, or to question Humanism's 'right' 
to exist as an ideology. I simply propose to examine, from a 
theoretical standpoint, the justification that the ideologues of The- 
oretical Humanism (the Young Marx, our moderns, etc.) invoke 
for assigning a theoretical role to ideological notr^ns like Man, the 
Human Genus, and so on. It is, then, from the theoretical stand- 
point, and from that standpoint alone, that I shall be treating 
these notions as so many epistemological obstacles. 

To make this more precise, I must add two important 

To say obstacle is to suggest a concept that is meaningful only 

ln terms of a theoretical metaphor that can be formulated 

roughly as follows. Theory has struck out on a path that it must 

trav el in order to attain knowledge of its real object or objects. 

At some point, this path is blocked by an obstacle that prevents 

^ e theory from approaching and attaining its object. Thus the 

^laphor of the epistemological obstacle signifies two things: (1) 

rie theory comes up against an obstacle that prevents it from 

aciv ancing; (2) this obstacle blocks a path and hides objects that 

Yc w some sense behind it. To eliminate the obstacle is to clear the 

Path and perceive the objects that were hidden by it. Thus there 


is a twofold relationship between the obstacle and the n 

the objects): on the one hand, a relationship of opr> .^° r 

[contrariety], but also, in a certain way, a relationship f n 

spondence [affinite] which, albeit hard to define, is unmistalc k 
It is not just any obstacle that blocks just any path or 'hides' * 

ibl e . 

any object. The history of theories shows that there is a cer* S * 
relationship between the way of handling (eliminating) Jl 
obstacle and therefore the nature of the obstacle, on the 8 
hand, and the path it blocks or the objects it 'hides' on the oth 

In this commentary, I am merely stating a proposition that T 
will develop later. It concerns one of the two aspects of th 
function of ideology: its function of allusion, invested in its 
function of illusion. It is because an ideological notion is always 
to a certain extent, allusive - in the very form of the illusion it 
imposes - that such a notion, which is an epistemological obsta- 
cle from the theoretical standpoint, corresponds to some extent 
[possMe quelque affinite] to the real problems it recognizes in 
misrecognizing them. I shall do nothing more than apply this 
theory of allusion-illusion, or the recognition-misrecognition of 
ideology, to the epistemological obstacles I shall be discussing. 
This will make it possible to reveal the real theoretical problems 
concealed (when such is the case) by these epistemological 
obstacles by removing them from our path. 

Second remark. The work of removing obstacles that we shall 
undertake below will not be, in most cases, a real labour of 
theoretical production, but a simple labour of critical repetition. 
For the most part, at least in principle, the work has already 
been done by Marx. We shall limit ourselves to going over the 
same ground. Although, on one or two points, we may find that 
we have to remove an obstacle which Marx did not have 
occasion to remove himself, we shall not, for the most part, find 
ourselves in the characteristic situation of a living science (wru c 
has to discern and eliminate epistemological obstacles that ha 
previously gone unnoticed). We shall simply have to rep^ a 
Marx's operation and to comment, if possible, on certain or i 
consequences, - 

Now that these methodological principles have been clea y 
defined, we can begin our examination. It will lead us to iden ; 
the epistemological obstacles that the notions of Theoreti 
Humanism place in the way of scientifically posing and soiv 


nroblems, of identifying these real problems, and of thinking 

fe3 theoretical conditions for posing and solving them. 

tf^nur an alyses of these epistemological obstacles and real prob- 

vvill also intersect most of the criticisms, objections or 

stions that have been addressed to me in the debate about 


t shall not be dealing with all the real problems involved in 
he dialectic 'epistemological obstacle/real problems', but, 
broadly/ with those of direct interest to historical materialism, 
nostponing the bulk of the problems that fall to the province of 
dialectical materialism. 

The general theme that will guide us in our analyses may be 
described as follows. The essential epistemological obstacles in 
the basic system of the ideology of Theoretical Humanism (i.e. 
Humanism with theoretical pretensions) are constituted by a 
number of notions that I have identified in the preceding 

1. the notion of Man (the essence or nature of Man); 

2. the notion of the human species or Human Genus (Man's 
generic essence, defined by consciousness, the heart, inter- 
subjectivity, etc.); 

3. the notion of the 'concrete', 'real', etc., individual; 

4. the notion of the subject ('concrete' subjectivity, the subject 
constitutive of the speculary relation, the process of aliena- 
tion, History, etc.); 

5 the notion of consciousness (for example, as the essential 
defining feature of the human species, or as the essence of 
the ideological); 

6- the notion of labour (as the essence of man); 

7- the notion of alienation (as the externalization of a Subject); 
8 the notion of dialectic (in so far as it implies a teleology). 


nese are basic notions. It is not hard to match them up with 
neir contemporary variants, traces of which appear in the objec- 
ts to the thesis of Marx's theoretical anti-humanism: for 
Sample, the derivative notions of 'subjectivity', 'subject' or 'act', 

Nation', 'project', 'transcendence', 'social labour', and so 


* should be recalled that the scientific pretension of these 


ideological notions resides in the presentation of them as 
thing they cannot be: scientific concepts that allow us to ^ 
and solve scientific problems in the open-ended theoretical fi* 
of scientific research, which produces discoveries. It should k 
recalled that the scientific pretension of these fundamental id 
logical notions is an imposture that hides their real function: th •" 
anti-scientific ideological function. It should be recalled that th 
ideological function of these notions with theoretical pretension 
does not consist in posing real problems, and thus in opening u 
the theoretical field in which real problems can be scientifically 
posed; it consists, rather, in imposing in advance - masked bv 
fictitious problems devoid of scientific content - ready-made 
solutions that are not theoretical solutions, but merely theoretical 
statements of 'practical' solutions, social solutions that exist in the 
form of realities which have been, or are to be, brought into 
existence [faits accomplis on d accomplir] in a class society, and 
correspond to the 'problems' of the economic, political or ideo- 
logical class struggle in that society. 

To put it schematically, the ideological notions in question 
here are merely transcriptions, with theoretical pretensions, of 
existing states of affairs. In the final analysis, they depend on the 
balance of power in the class struggle: they are ideological prises 
de parti in favour of certain moral, religious and political 'values', 
and, by way of those values, certain political institutions, certain 
moral and religious prejudices, and the prejudice of morality 
and religion. 

Therefore, far from opening up the theoretical field in which it 
would be possible to pose real problems scientifically, these 
ideological notions, which are basically nothing but theoretical 
transcriptions of actually existing social solutions, have the func- 
tion of preventively closing off the field they pretend to open up/ 
thus making it impossible to pose any real problems or, conse- 
quently, make any pertinent discovery. Diderot demonstrated 
clear insight into the basic nature of ideology when he declared, 
that he would believe in theology when someone showed hii* 1 
its 'discoveries' 

We could, with no trace of irony, ask those who have today 
resolved to defend and propagate these shopworn ideologi ca J 
notions to be so good as to show us the scientific 'discoveries 
that the philosophies of Man, the Subject (in all its avatars, 


phenomenology included), the Act, Labour, Praxis, Alienation, 
a nd s° on / have yielded or sparked in any field whatsoever, or the 
re? earch that their miraculous 'categories' have made more 
fertile. Even a nodding acquaintance with what is currently 
going on in the 'Human Sciences', in which these categories find 
t heir field of predilection, will suffice to confirm not only the 
entire sterility of their intervention, but also the retrogressive 
effects it provokes. Far from contributing to the 'progress' of the 
disciplines in which they 'take an interest', these philosophical 
ideologies merely seek to 'domesticate' them and harness them 
to the apologetic service of the Great Causes whose agents they 
are. Bringing out real problems is thus not merely the last of 
their concerns; it is that which it is their function, precisely, to 

Hence it is necessary to identify and then remove these 
epistemological obstacles in order to clear the path they block 
and then open up the theoretical field in which real problems can 
be identified, posed and examined. 

What real problems can we discern behind the notions of 
Theoretical Humanism, once their impostures and theoretical pre- 
tensions have been challenged? Let me mention the essential 
ones, correlating them with the main epistemological obstacles 
that 'correspond' to them: 

1. The problem of the definition of the human species - or of 
the specific difference that distinguishes the forms of exist- 
ence of the human species from those of animal species 
(obstacles: the notions of man's generic essence, of con- 
sciousness, etc.). 

2. The problem of the structure of social formations (obstacles: 
the notions of Man, Man's generic essence, the 'heart' or 
intersubjectivity, consciousness, the subject, etc.). 

3. The problem of the dialectic of history as a process without 
subjects (obstacles: the notions of Man, Genus, subject, 
alienation, the teleological-dialectic). 

4. The problem of the forms of individuality (obstacles: the 
notions of Man, Genus, individual, subject, the concrete, 

5. The problem of the nature of the ideological (obstacles: the 
notions of Man, consciousness, subjectivity, etc.). 


Each of these 'real problems' is said to be a 'real problem 1 • 
precise sense that needs to be made clear. ^ a 

These problems are not said to be 'real' in the empiricist 
of the word, as if it were enough to open one's eyes to icj e ^ 
them - as if it would have been enough, from time immemorial 
have opened one's eyes to identify them. Most of our & ' ° 
'Humanists' incessantly invoke, in incantatory fashion, the 're i* 
which for them is the 'concrete', 'life', 'richer and more vibra ' 
than any concept', in order religiously to contrast it with 'theorv' 
which is, as everyone knows - ever since the famous bon mo » 
that, though it contains its grain of truth, can also be used to 
justify all kinds of resignation - 'always grey' It is not that 'real' 
that we mean, but the scientific 'real , which - as Marx com- 
pellingly demonstrated - has nothing to do with the 'concrete' 
or the 'real' of the obvious facts of everyday life, which are given 
and imbued with the self-evidence of ideology. 

These problems are real because they are posited as real in the 
theoretical field conquered by the long theoretical labour that has 
culminated in the present state of scientific knowledge. Thus we 
are talking about the theoretical reality of theoretical problems, 
which as such pertain to the process of knowledge, and appear 
as such only within the process of knowledge, as a function of a 
given historical state of the theoretical concepts that constitute 
the problematic of a theory. 

Of course, the real (theoretical) problems generated by the 
process of knowledge have to do with realties that exist indepen- 
dently of the process of knowledge, and pertain to the real process 
or process of the real; the establishment of this correlation [cette 
mise en correspondance] constitutes, precisely, the knowledge- 
effect produced by the process of knowledge. 

This distinction explains what empiricism cannot explain: the 
transformation in the way problems are posed, and the transforma- 
tion of the objects of knowledge within the process of knowl- 
edge; in other words, the appearance of new objects not seen 
previously. Empiricism thinks that knowledge is an act of vision 
[une vue]: it is incapable of explaining the appearance of & e 
objects in the field of 'the seen' [le champ de la 'vue'}, and thus tn 
fact that these new objects were not 'seen' [vus] earlier. It doe 
not 'see' that the seeing [la vue] of what one sees in scienc 
depends on the apparatus of theoretical vision, and therefore o 


history of the transformations of the theory within the 
^L-ess °f knowledge. Thus what are called real problems derive 
f r fhe reality of the process of knowledge, its apparatus of 
^ nretical vision at a given time, and its theoretical criteria of 
\ /iff/- R ea My * S/ ""* *^ e P rec i se sense in which we are using it, a 
-* fegory of the process of knowledge itself. 

The same holds for the category 'problem' in the expression 
' eal problem' In the everyday sense, the term 'problem' desig- 
ates any kind of difficulty. Everyone has his 'problems' - so 
Aces History, so do the Communist parties. In this sense, all 
problems are 'real' or 'concrete', as so many obstacles that the 
various 'projects', whatever they are, come up against. We need 
to set aside this vague sense of the word, which is much too 
broad and confused, in order to specify the precise sense in 
which we are employing it. 

Not every difficulty is a problem from the scientific point of 
view. Only those difficulties identified in the theoretical field of 
scientific research and susceptible of being posed as problems are 
scientific problems. The posing [position] of a difficulty as a 
problem must be understood in a precise sense that we can 
illustrate with the spatial metaphor of position. To pose a problem 
is to find, within the field of the existing theory, the precise place 
that rightfully falls to it, and so allows it to be conceived and 
treated as a problem. To assign it its place is simultaneously to 
identify it and to call it by its name. Assigning it its place, 
identifying it and stating it are of a piece. These three linked 
operations are made possible only by reference to the theoretical 
concepts constitutive of the existing theoretical field. To pose a 
problem, then, is to assign it its place, give it its name, and so 
°n, by confronting a difficulty that one has pinpointed with the 
concepts constituting the field of the theory that has enabled one 
to pinpoint it. 

This confrontation does not always allow one to pose in the 
*°rm of a problem every difficulty one encounters: there are 
difficulties that remain in the state of difficulties, and cannot be 
Posed as problems: they subsist in the state of remainders. As a 
J" u le, one talks in this case about 'problems without a solution', 
u t this expression is not exact. It would be better to talk about 
a ifficulties that cannot be posed in the form of problems when- 
Ver the arsenal of existing scientific concepts does not yet make it 


possible rigorously to pose these difficulties in the form of 
lems. It also happens that certain problems can be posed th ^ 
ically, although one does not possess all the theor^^ 
instruments required to produce their solution. These are ^ 
lems that (for the time being) have no solution. Finally, u 
happen that certain problems are 'posed' (and even resolved^ 
practical fashion without being posed and resolved theoreticall 
this holds for what we may call practical inventions, which are 
advance of the corresponding theoretical solutions (discoveries 
Political practice offers some striking examples. 

All these 'problems' relative to the conditions for posing 
difficulties as problems deserve to be posed correctly in their 
turn. That task falls to philosophy. 

I have said enough about this to make my meaning clear. 
When I talk about the list of real problems discernible behind the 
epistemological obstacles created by the notions of Humanist 
ideology, I am referring to scientific problems in the strict sense, 
that is to say, difficulties that can be assigned a place, identified, 
and stated in function of the theoretical concepts of science in its 
present state: in the case to hand, in function of the existing 
concepts of historical materialism. Thus each of these problems 
can legitimately stand as the object of a theory. 

We shall see that, of the real problems I have listed, some can 
be posed rigorously in conditions that enable us to state the 
principle of their solution, on condition that serious theoretical 
research is carried out. Others, in contrast, can for now merely 
be correctly posed, while we wait to acquire the theoretical 
elements which we do not yet possess, and without which we cannot 
envisage their solution. 

First problem: the definition of the human species** 

In order to state this problem and take its exact scientific meas- 
ure, as well as to evaluate its ideological and scientific import; 
we have first to remove the epistemological obstacle blocking 
access to it. This epistemological obstacle depends on a notion 
fraught with ideological determinations, on account, precisely/ 
of its age-old function, a function it continues to fulfill in 
contemporary ideological struggles: for or against religion an 
idealism, for or against materialism. 


or der to grasp the nature of this epistemological obstacle in 
state in which Marx found it before he cleared it from his 

th we have to go back to Feuerbach - to his conception of the 
a man Genus or the generic essence of Man. 

The theory of the Human Genus serves, in Feuerbach, to 
- und 'concrete' intersubjectivity (the I-Thou), which stands in 
f t both the Transcendental and the Noumenal Subject in his 
'ork; it serves to found the speculary theory of the Absolute 
Horizon within which man encounters, in his objects, the reflec- 
tion of his Essence; it serves to 'think' History by distributing 
the Human Genus among all individual human beings, past, 
present and future - and is thus the name of the Future whose 
present stands in perpetual need of a supplement in order to fill 
its theoretical vacuum; it serves, finally, to represent the 'heart', 
Man['s ] communitarian nature, which images the Utopian figure 
of communism in advance. But - to come to what interests us - 
the notion of Human Genus also serves to ground the old 
spiritualist distinction that privileges man over the whole natural 

The human species, says Feuerbach, is not a species like all 
the others; it must be called a Genus, because it is the 'species of 
all the species', the universal species in the strict sense of the 
word, the species which, unlike the others (hedgehog, dragonfly, 
rhododendron), does not take as its object a finite 'world', a 
minuscule portion of the Universe, but the Universe itself in its 
totality. This is a disarming way of assigning the Absolute 
Horizon of the human species the dimensions of the Universe, 
and the subjectivity of the human species the attributes of 
objectivity - in a word, a way of repeating the old thesis that the 
distinguishing feature of the human species is Reason. 

But, in the good old idealist tradition, to say Reason is, of 
c ourse, to say consciousness. The human species is, for Feuerbach, 
n °t just a species, but a Genus, because it is the only species in 
the world that can take itself as its own object. The hedgehog 
" a s many merits, and its 'horizon' (that of its Umwelt) has, even 
Mien it crosses roads, 63 clear limits - but the poor beast does not 
Possess the privilege of making its species its object. It experi- 
er Kes it, but, as we have known since Pascal, knows nothing about 
Jj e matter. Man knows what he is, for he belongs to a Genus that 
fias the immediate privilege of making its species its object: 


consciousness is this immediate presence of the Genus [Gew 

the individual. Consciousness of all kinds [en tout genre] if i 

say so, but of course (for this is the crucial point), moral ^ 

sciousness above all (and moral, in Feuerbach, means reliofo ^ 

The notion of the human Genus thus has the function ^ J' 

' not c\( 
thinking, obviously, but of purely and simply proclaiming th 

Grand Principles of Idealism (they can also be, depending ^ 

their mode, the Grand Principles of critical idealism). In Feu 

bach, they are the principles of spiritualist (religious) idealism" 

Man is that exceptional being whose attributes are the Universal 

Reason, Consciousness (rational, moral, and religious) and Love' 

As we can readily see, where Grand Principles are involved 

there can be no question of going into particulars or offering 

proof. It is enough to proclaim of them; Theoretical Humanism 

does not suspect the existence of the least little problem here. In 

its view, these are Established Solutions, established from aU 


Under these conditions, one is not surprised to observe the 
extreme ideological importance of the question of the definition of 
the human species in its distinction from the animal species. In 
various explicit forms, this question long served and, in trans- 
posed forms, still massively serves as a symbolic issue whose 
stake is (to the extent that it is at stake here) the fate of religious 
and moral ideology - above all, the fate of religion, certain 
Institutions (the Churches and their powers) and the major 
political Interests tied to them (in the final analysis, relations of 
class domination). 

It would be a mistake to think that the ideological virulence 
of this question diminished on the day the Church's prerogatives 
diminished thanks to progress in the hard sciences, life sciences, 
and sciences of Man (human palaeontology, etc.). It was merely 
the ideological exploitation of the question that changed, in botn 
its forms and its point of application: in philosophy on the one 
hand and science on the other. 

1. In philosophy, this question is taken directly in hand Dy 
spiritualist idealism, in forms that remain crude and obviou 
even when spiritualist philosophy tries to integrate the results 
the life sciences by 'interpreting' them to its advantage. V* 1 
need only think of Bergsonism, Teilhardism, or - because the 


n0 avoiding the subject - the echoes that this spiritualist 
f nlogy °f rnatter, life and society has found even in certain 
1 a rxis* circles. But these crude, philosophically discredited 

rtns should not blind us to the more subtle forms in which 

ritical philosophy, too, has simply taken over the great Division 

fhat interests so many Interests - that is to say, since to divide is 

rute' so many forms of Rule. 

VVithout going back to the Kantian Distinction between 
Mature and Freedom, which still commands Phenomenology 
a nd finally even haunts its own rejection in the Heideggerian 
problematic of Being and Dasein, let us consider the form in 
which this spiritualist heritage has been taken up by the philos- 
ophy of the 'sciences of Man' It appears in propria persona in the 
great idealist Distinction between the Sciences of Nature and the 
Sciences of Man. For example, it is manifest in Dilthey's theory^ 
of the difference between explanation (the Natural Sciences) and 
comprehension (the Sciences of Man). It is also manifest in the 
famous question of the legitimate object of the dialectic - to be 
very precise, in the question of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of 
a Dialectic of Nature. 

The thesis of the exclusively human (or historical) privilege of 
the dialectic (see Sartre, etc)/* 7 like the thesis of the irreducible 
specificity of the form of intelligibility of 'human phenomena" 
(compre) tension, phenomenological description, and other herme- 
neutic variants), shows that spiritualism's defence of the religious 
privilege of the Nature and Destiny of Man is an ideological 
constant. It is against the background of this ideological struggle 
that the Marxist materialist thesis of the epistemological Unity 
°f all the Sciences, the natural sciences as well as the sciences of 
^an, takes on its full significance, as does the thesis of the 
Dialectic of Nature. 

At this level, these theses must be taken for what they are: the 
defence of ideological positions in the field of philosophy, that is, a 
radical refusal to adopt idealist-spiritualist positions (a refusal to 
privilege the virtues of 'comprehension', 'description', 'herme- 
n eutics', etc, - a rejection of the idea of the non-dialecticity of 
Nature); and, at the same time, the affirmation of counter-theses 
calling for a fundamental transformation in the way the 'prob- 
le ms' at stake in the debate are defined and posed. 

We have seen this in connection with the Dialectic of Nature. 


It is no accident that the thesis that there is a Dialectic of Natu r 
has made its way from Hegel into Marxism, and that tJv 
question is, even today, one of the absolute touchstones of fk 
materialist party position in philosophy. The thesis that there ' 
a Dialectic of Nature was indispensable to Hegel's theory f 
History as a non-anthropological theory of History: it indicates, in 
the Hegelian context (which continues to bear the stamp f 
spiritualism in the teleology of the process of alienation), that the 
dialectic does not begin with Man, and that History is therefore 
a process without a subject. It is owing to the religious privilege 
conferred upon the Human Species that all notion of a dialectic 
of Nature disappears in Feuerbach: for the same fundamental 
theoretical reason, there can also be no Dialectic of Nature in the 
1844 Manuscripts or The German Ideology, in which history is 
anthropological, in whole or in part. It is no accident that, in 
Marxism, the thesis that there is a Dialectic of Nature comes to 
the fore during Engels's struggle against Duhring's spiritual- 
ism, 69 which was attempting to re-establish the religious privi- 
lege of the human species. 

But this justified 'revival' of the Dialectic of Nature, which 
some modern Marxists, and by no means the least of them, 
condemn with incredible nonchalance, has more than just an 
ideological function. For epistemological reasons that we can 
now see, it is closely bound up with the fundamental philosoph- 
ical category on which Capital is based - the category of the 
process without a subject. The thesis that there is a Dialectic of 
Nature thus plays not only an ideological role {against spiritual- 
ism, for materialism), but also a positive epistemological role: 
against the category of the process of the alienation of a Subject, 
for the category of the process without a subject. 

The thesis of the Dialectic of Nature, in its present form, has to 
do less with such dialectics as exist in Nature (an area that is 
open to scientific and epistemological investigation) than with 
what is going on in the science of History on the one hand and 
at the junction of the Natural and Human Sciences on the other. 
For this threefold reason, ideological, philosophical and scien- 
tific, it is today, and will long remain, a key thesis of Marxism 
on which no theoretical concession can be made if we are not to 
relapse into idealism and spiritualism. 

Such are the ideological and philosophical stakes whose 


is the question of the differential definition of the human 


2. But the debate has also taken, since the emergence of the 
I f e sciences (especially since Darwin), the form of an ideologico- 
- c ientific debate pursued on the terrain of the sciences them- 
selves; to be very precise, at the borderline between the life 
sciences and the science of history. Are the sciences that take this 
borderline for their object capable of demonstrating the existence 
f a material continuity in the evolution of species from the animal 
to the human species? For spiritualism finds, as might be 
expected, one of its favourite arguments in what it regards as 
the 'fact 7 that there is an irreducible discontinuity here, which it 
loses no time in exploiting to religious ends. Of course, there is 
something to be gained from denying it the possibility of using 
this argument. Whence the ideological importance, a function of 
the ideological struggle defined by the terms of contemporary 
spiritualism, of scientific discoveries about the nature of the 
borderline between animal species and the human species. 

It would, however, be peculiarly naive to believe that settling 
this question would leave spiritualism with nowhere to turn. As 
we know, it is even capable of taking the initiative and 'domes- 
ticating' any scientific discovery that might, at the scientific level, 
radically compromise the 'histories' [histoires] in Genesis: think 
of Teilhard's apologetic operation. Indeed, spiritualism, like any 
other ideology, not only does not take science seriously; that is 
what spiritualism is made for. Its function is always to 'domesti- 
cate' science, whatever its findings. One does not put paid to an 
ideology by 'countering' it on the terrain of science, for the very 
good reason that an ideology does not 'spring up' on that terrain, 
but on the terrain of class relations and their effects. Spiritualism 
has a bright future ahead of it, even after Darwin, even after the 
recent discoveries of human palaeontology. 70 

I should like to pause over this point, for when Marxists begin 
to display this kind of naivety about the basic nature of spiritu- 
alism, they not only misjudge the 'conclusive' ideological effects 
that they expect 'scientific discoveries' to have on the crucial 
question of the definition of the human species; much more 
alarmingly, they do not always manage to avoid the ideological 
contamination that contact with the ideological 'arguments' of 


the adversary often brings in its wake. When one has to 'f 
the adversary' on to his own ground (ideology), 0n °^°W 
comes away unscathed, unless one is very well armed fr* 1 ^ 
theoretical standpoint. *** a 

There is, precisely, no lack of recent examples of 'Jv( a • 
who are only too happy to utilize the Recent Scientific Disc 
ies of human palaeontology to refute the arguments of ^ 
ditional spiritualism without pausing to consider that, in hasH^ 
bending these Recent Discoveries to the service of a Human ^ 
ideology, even one that is dubbed 'Marxist', they inevitabl 
lapse into modern spiritualism. ^ 

I am referring specifically to the following situation. Recent 
discoveries have cast doubt on the classic Darwinian thesis of 
man's simian ancestry (a 'scandal' that spiritualism laughed to 
scorn). It has, it seems, been proven that man's ancestors did not 
descend from the most 'highly evolved' breeds of the simian 
species, that the pertinent sign of humanness is not brain size 
(this is a mechanistic materialist thesis which, moreover, still has 
an odour of spiritualism about it, since to say 'brain' is to say 
'reason' or 'consciousness', etc.). Rather, it would appear that the 
'ancestor' of the human line was a creature which had only a 
modestly developed brain but was distinguished by the fact that 
it stood upright, so that its hands were free to fashion rudimen- 
tary tools under conditions which, it seems reasonable to sup- 
pose, were not 'individual' but social. We see straight away the 
interest that this discovery can hold for historical materialism. The 
object of historical materialism is the nature of the forms of 
historical existence characteristic of the human species: namely, 
the structure of social formations, as the condition for the pro- 
duction, and for the reproduction of the conditions of produc- 
tion, of men's material means of existence. The Recent 
Discoveries supposedly make it possible to 'bridge the gap 
between present-day human societies and the animal origins or 
the human species, since they seem to show that the human 
species comprised, from its beginnings, creatures living 'together 
and producing rudimentary tools. 

Marxists have not been slow to draw parallels between these 
discoveries and a famous text by Engels (Dialectics of Nature) on 
the feature that distinguishes the human species from the most 
advanced animal species - namely, labour - as well as the role 


labour played in the 'creation' of the humanness of the 
^ an species. 71 Marx had already pointed to this distinguish- 
J 11 * future in Capital, citing a phrase of Franklin's that defines 
in ^ as a 'toolmaking animal'. 72 

1X1 The Recent Discoveries are of undeniable ideological, scientific 
j philosophical interest We need, however, to spell out the 
.• 7}iificance and limits of this interest. 

*" From the ideological standpoint, they render the task of 
spiritualist apologetics more difficult. Such apologetics can no 
longer make as demagogic a use of the arguments of derision 
which decried the Darwinian 'scandal 7 (the ape!) in an appeal to 
a crude common sense flattered in its religion by the solacing 
thought that man could not decently be the son of an ape. But 
we can count on spiritualist ideology: it will always land on its 
feet - since, like any good ideology, it does not have any. 

From the scientific standpoint, the Recent Discoveries are of 
undeniable interest. But they add nothing at all to the conceptual 
content of historical materialism, which did not have to wait for 
either Darwin or modern palaeontologists in order to emerge 
and develop, and cannot hope to learn anything about the 
fundamental problems of the development of its own theory 
from their revelations. The hypothesis that man is a 'toolmaking 
animal' living in groups, and that labour transforms 'human 
nature', has been in general circulation since the eighteenth 
century/ but has remained altogether unproductive. Historical 
materialism does not spring from it; as we know, it was pro- 
duced on the basis of very different 'premisses' Indeed, what 
can we expect the scientific solution of this kind of 'borderline 
problem' to contribute to the scientific content of a discipline 
whose object is authentic social formations, not these groups 
which a profound qualitative difference probably sets apart from 
the social formations that historical materialism studies? A bor- 
derline problem: it must still be demonstrated that the borderline 
m question clearly is the one that runs between ecological and 
biological laws on the one hand and, on the other, the social 
laws of history that make human history properly so called what 
it is - and that it is not a borderline internal to the prehistorical 
r ealm, that is, one which is still subject to bio-ecological rather 

K Pace Suret-Canale. 


than social laws. On this point, the question is far from k 
closed. e ^g 

From the philosophical point of view, these discoveries K 
a much broader interest. For they constitute, on one n . 
point, the edict revoking a genetic conception of the evolutio 
process, and therefore an evolutionist ideology of genesis Th^ 
offer a totally different image of the dialectic from the teleol ^ 
cal dialectic of evolutionism, which is merely the poor rtia ' 
Hegelianism: a dialectic of non-genetic mutations. 

What, however, do we see? Certain Marxists rush to embrac 
these discoveries and put them to the kind of ideological use 
which, although it is directed against certain spiritualist argu- 
ments, throws the door wide open to a new kind of spiritualism' 
that of Theoretical Humanism. The notion on which this ideo- 
logical enterprise turns is either that of labour (the essence of 
Man is labour) or the apparently more 'Marxist', but in fact 
equivalent, notion of 'social labour' The ideological operation I 
wish to denounce is simple. It consists in giving Theoretical 
Humanism a new 'lease on life' by reactivating the ideological 
notion of 'labour' against the background provided by the 
following theoretical complex: Essence of Man - labour (or social 
labour) = the creation of Man by Man = Man, Subject of History 
= History as a process whose Subject is Man (or human labour). 
It looks very much as if the Recent Discoveries of human 
palaeontology had here given the 'green light' to a 'revival' of 
Theoretical Humanism, 

Since those who profess this spiritualist ideology are not 
necessarily aware of the implications of their argument, and 
since their argument gives itself the theoretical benefit of 
expressions with a Marxist resonance, it is essential that we go 
into some detail here. I take the liberty of quoting Suret-Canale, 
whose argument will enlighten us, precisely in so far as i 
explicitly relates the recent discoveries to the 1844 Manuscripts: 

Thus what is still mistaken or inadequate in the 1844 Manuscript* 
is their philosophical (speculative) approach. 

I believe that Althusser, too, thinks this. But his interpretation 
also seems to reject as 'ideological', that is, speculative or mistak 
the very conception of a universal essence of man, or, if you like ~ 
put the same thing in everyday language - any general definite 
whatsoever of the human species. 


Such a rejection is unjustified, as is any rejection of the general 

, or y to the sole benefit either of a particular science or of certain 
ientific laws taken separately (an approach typical of positivism). 

The core of the general definition of man in the 1844 Manuscripts 
'c perfectly valid. I would even go so far as to say that this definition 
f man in terms of social labour is one of Marx's fundamental 
discoveries, without which everything that follows - the theory of 
modes of production, the analysis of capitalism - would have been 
inconceivable. Marx never disowned it; on the contrary, he built on 
it ((or example, in Volume 1 of Capital/ 4 by showing what basically 
distinguishes man from animals). Engels, too, developed this defini- 
tion in Dialectics of Nature. 

May I be permitted a parenthetical remark? We have all the less 
reason to call this general conception into question in that it has 
today been strikingly confirmed by the discoveries of science, of 
human palaeontology. This is quite recent; it dates from the last ten 
years. [There follows a resume of Leroi-Gourhan's theses.] It has 
been proven that it is social labour, the distinctive sign of which is 
toolmaking, which originally led to hominization, not the other way 

But let us turn back to the subject at hand. The definition that 
Marx gives in the 1844 Manuscripts, one that has been confirmed and 
enriched by science, cannot be put on a par with the speculative, 
erroneous definitions (which are idealist at their root) advanced by 
Feuerbach or the eighteenth-century philosophers who, for their part, 
set out to deduce the essence of man from the appearance of the 
bourgeois and petty-bourgeois individual of their day. 

To the extent that, in 1845, Marx's break with his earlier concep- 
tions bears essentially on the speculative nature of his approach, not 
with his general conception of man, the terminology 'theoretical 
humanism /theoretical anti-humanism' seems to me to be unjustified. 
It does not get at the essence of the matter. 

* shall not reiterate themes that cannot be seriously defended. 
What is essential about a scientific discovery is not the break 
w ith speculation. Infinitely more is required than this simple 
Prerequisite; otherwise, Feuerbach, who spent his life breaking 
w *th speculation, would have been a great man of science. What 
ls essential about a scientific discovery is that it contribute 
something new to the content of a theory (not its form, speculative 
° r not). I agree with the statement - albeit with major reser- 
vations which I shall go on to explain - that the novelty of 
^ a rx's discovery is not unrelated to what an expression like 


'social labour' can mean for us, retrospectively, and on conditi 
that it is subjected to a radical critique. But 1 do not at all a^r^ 
with (1) the statement that this discovery is contained i n ll/ 
1844 Manuscripts; or (2) the idea that it can be designated by jk* 
terribly equivocal (I mean un-Marxist) expression 'social labour' 
Yet one cannot defend the thesis that Marx's discovery is Con 
tained in the 1844 Manuscripts unless one considers this 
expression Marxist. 

The 1844 Manuscripts defines Man in terms of labour (after 
Hegel and Smith, who are reconciled and given a theoretical 
blessing whose edifying whys and wherefores I have already 
discussed). The Manuscripts defines this labour in terms of its 
originary act, the (Feuerbachian) externalization of the Essential 
Forces of the individual producer. Everything takes place 
between a Subject (labouring Man, the worker) and his products 
(his Object). On the Feuerbachian definition, the individual's 
'absolute essence' is the species; he is therefore Genus in his very 
essence, and that is why his individual act is, primordially, a 
generic act. Hence the ideological deduction, which the Manu- 
scripts develops for us with admirable rigour, of the social effects 
of this originary act of self-extemalization/self-manifestation of 
the Human Essence (for the individual is, as Man, generic in his 
essence) in the material production of the worker/individual: 
property, classes, capital, and so on. The adjective 'social' in the 
expression 'social labour' forged by Suret-Canale designates, in 
the Manuscripts, the effect or phenomenon or manifestation (the 
Hegelian in-itself-for-itself) of the generic character of Man con- 
tained in the originary act of externalization/alienation of the 
essence of Man, which is present [in] the worker's labour (the 
Hegelian in-itself). A close reading of the Manuscripts leaves no 
room for doubt on this score. Everything that is 'social' desig- 
nates, not the structure of social conditions and the labour-process 
or the process of the realization of value, but the externalization/ 
alienation (via as many mediations as you like) of an originary 
essence, that of Man. 

That, incidentally, explains why Marx can come up with a 
perfectly idealist formulation about 'the action [acte] of world 
history' that is man's birth act [acte] 75 - which is originary in the 
precise sense of all philosophies of the origin, that is, of the 
essence as constitutive Subject. Here 'origin' signifies, not the 


iqitis, that is, the beginning, but the present, eternal, constitutive 
° sence that produces, out of its constitutive depths, all the 
^enomena of history. 

" Let us extend the scope of the debate. If the expression 'social 
labour' is ambiguous, it is because 'social' is here simply the 
adjective (in the Manuscripts, the Phenomenon, the externaliza- 
tion, the in-itself-for-itself) associated with a noun that is its 
inner essence (its in-itself): labour. If we draw the conclusions 
that follow from this, we have to state plainly, in the face of 
God-only-knows-how-many appearances and authorities, that 
the concept of labour, in the ambiguity that constantly tempts 
one to establish it as a basic concept of the theory of historical 
materialism, is not a Marxist concept. Quite the contrary: the 
concept of labour is itself a major epistemological obstacle block- 
ing the development of Marxist theory. 

One can easily convince oneself of this a posteriori by exam- 
ining all the ideologies of labour, all the idealist interpretations 
of Marxism as a philosophy of labour - whether they rehearse 
the themes of the 2844 Manuscripts or set out to construct a 
Phenomenology of 'praxis'. 11 But it will be objected that what is 
involved here is philosophical ideology, not historical materialism, 
which situates itself elsewhere, on the terrain of science. 

Very well then; let us talk about historical materialism. If we 
do, we cannot but admit that Marx's whole critique of classical 
Political Economy consisted in exploding the concept of labour 
accepted by the Economists, in order to suppress and then 
replace it with new concepts in which the word 'labour' figures, 
to be sure, but always in conjunction with other words that 
confer a distinctive meaning upon the new concept, a meaning 
that can no longer be confused with the ambiguous meaning of 
the simple concept of 'labour' 

The concept of labour, when it 'explodes', breaks down into 
the following concepts: labour-process, the structure of the social 
conditions of the labour-process, labour-power (not labour), 
value of labour-power (not of labour), concrete labour, abstract 
labour, utilization of labour-power, quantity of labour, and so 
on. All the products of this 'explosion' are merely the precise 
forms thanks to which the enormous epistemological obstacle that 

" In Italy, the work of Enzo Pad. 


the simple, originary notion of labour constituted for histo ' 
materialism is cleared from the path of the science of hist °^ 
And when Marx talks, in Capital, about the 'social' characte ^ 
labour or the ever more extensive socialization of labour tu 
word labour in these expressions does not refer us to a b a * 
concept that is theoretically prior, and thus scientific in and 
itself - the concept of Labour - but, rather, to the new, conwle 
concepts of which I have provided a brief list. 

That is why Suret-Canale's expression 'social labour' i s 
ambiguous, especially in view of the fact that he explicitly refers 
to the 1844 Manuscripts in his comments on it. Of course, this 
expression has an advantage over others (such as 'the essence of 
man is labour'): it introduces the adjective 'social' as a 'supple- 
mentary', 'remedial' element indispensable to designating 
Marx's discovery of labour. But Marx's discovery bears, pre- 
cisely, on the nature of the object designated by the adjective 
'social': namely, society. What is involved is not a 'supplement'; 
it is the essence of the matter. Marx's discovery has the effect of 
reversitig the order adjective-noun that expresses a phenomenon- 
essence relationship perfectly adapted to the theses of the Man- 
uscripts, and of bringing out the fact that, in order to think the 
nature of 'labour', one has to begin by thinking the structure of the 
social conditions (social relations) in which it is mobilized. Labour 
then becomes labour-power, mobilized in a labour-process subject 
to, and defined by, the structure of social relations. It follows 
that the feature distinguishing the forms of existence of the 
human species from those of animal species is not 'social labour', 
but the social structure of the production and reproduction of 
the existence of social formations, that is, the social relations that 
preside over the mobilization of labour-power in the labour- 
process, together with all their effects. 

This makes it easy to see the ideological ambiguity on which the 
entire 'revival' of Humanism is based, as is any attempt which 
sets out to ground the 'humanist' character of Marxist theory in 
the fact that Marx talks about human societies, not animal socie- 
ties. There are two possibilities here: what is in question is a 
truism that is beneath comment; it would have it that one is quite 
as much a humanist because one produces a theory of human 
History as one is a mechanist because one writes a treatise on 
general mechanics, or a monk because one produces a theory ° 


jigion. This alternative is not serious. What is, however, serious 
^ but in this case we are dealing with the seriousness of an 
.^posture - is to produce, as the differential concept distinguish- 
ing ^ e ^ orms °f existence of human societies from those of animal 
oC ieties, a concept on whose ambiguity and connotations one 
the n proceeds to play (labour, social labour) in order to base a 
^eoretical-Humanist interpretation of Marxist science or philos- 
ophy on that concept's moral overtones. 

I do not - I repeat - mean by this that the problem of the 
origins of the human species is not a scientific problem, or that 
jt is not of some interest to historical materialism. A materialist, 
scientific theory of human palaeontology certainly does matter 
to historical materialism, because it does away with a whole set 
of alibis for the spiritualist ideologies of history that are con- 
stantly being opposed to historical materialism. But historical 
materialism managed to emerge without benefit of the scientific 
basis provided by the findings of modern human palaeontology 
(it was barely ten years ago that .) and Capital was conceived 
some time before the Dialectics of Nature, that is to say, before 
Engels's celebrated text on the difference between man and the 
apes. 7 " If historical materialism could manage without the 
palaeontologists, that is because its object is autonomous with 
respect to the findings of human palaeontology, and, as such, 
can be treated in perfectly independent form. 

But we must go even further. Although, as will readily be 
granted, the 'revival' of Theoretical Humanism is no more based 
on the Recent Discoveries of palaeontology than the lucubrations 
of the next Teilhard who happens to come along will be (he will 
have no trouble at all 'domesticating' the famous Discoveries in 
a n apologetic enterprise of the same stripe), and although this 
'revival' of Theoretical Humanism is explained, in the final 
a nalysis, by factors that have everything to do with the political 
conjuncture and precious little to do with scientific rigour, we 
still have to get to the heart of the matter, and ask for what 
reasons - not only political, but also theoretical reasons - serious 
Marxists (I am not talking about the jugglers) succumb so easily 
to this temptation. For I am convinced that, in their case, it is not 
°nly a matter of the political conjuncture but, first and foremost, 
°f theoretical conviction. 

Let us therefore go to the root of this conviction. It is insepar- 


able from what these Marxists conceive to be the requi rp 

of materialism, en ts 

Let me turn back for just a moment to the ideological ad 
tages of the Recent Discoveries. Their function is to 'fiii? n ~ 
vacuum [vide] in the materialist 'conception of the world' i a 
doing, they offer 'proof that the world is 'continuous', and ^ 
there is not between the materiality of life and human existe 
the discontinuity of that 'transcendence' in which the mast * 
signifiers of religion find their niche but rather, the unity ] 
materiality itself. This is important. But we have to recoeni* 
that even in our day, another preoccupation can slip in Un( j e 
cover of this preoccupation with 'filling a vacuum' (ideology 
rushes to fill a vacuum), and that it is not unrelated to some of 
the master-signifiers of religious ideology. 

It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that the 'empty spaces' [vides] 
in which religious ideology takes a special interest are the empty 
spaces of Origins that are merely the small change of the big 
Empty Space of the Origin. The Origin of Man, the Origin of 
Life, and so on, are for religious ideology merely exemplars, 
among hundreds of others, of the Origin of the World, that is, of 
Creation. It is - let me say in passing - no wonder that some, 
precisely in connection with the origins of Man, spontaneously 
speak the language of creation. 77 The example they embody will 
be rejected as irrelevant, and I am happy to agree that it is. But 
there is a certain way of rejecting the problematic of Creation 
and the Origin which, while overtly challenging it, in ^ act 
remains subject to it. 

That this problem of the Origins (of life, man, etc.) haunts, in 
particular, many Marxists who are convinced that they are 
engaged in philosophical (and not merely ideological) work is a 
fact that can already serve us as a clue. This clue is immediately 
corroborated by the kind of theoretical principle such Marxis 
bring to bear in order to 'resolve' these problems of the Ongi* 1 ' 
problems of which they are especially fond. , 

Here I would like publicly to denounce the 'spontaneo 
persistence (in the Leninist sense of 'spontaneity') of a cone p 
tion that cannot resist associating materialism with genesis- 
broad circles of Marxist materialism, among not only ph 11 
phers, but also Marxist scientists (the latter case is by far 
more frequent), materialism is spontaneously thought w 


a through the category of genesis. That is why problems of the 
^ n . * hold so important a place in the prevailing conception of 
^ f l ctical materialism. For the Origins are, par excellence, the 
i ce where the ideological schema of genesis can operate 
U To sa Y g enes ' s * s to sa Y/ from the depths of an age-old 

ligious ideological tradition, filiation; the possibility of tracking 
iuivrc tf la trace] the effects of a filiation; the assurance that one 

dealing with the same individual, the same lineage, whose 
transformations can be followed step by step. At the heart of 
every genesis is the need for assurance, for a fundamental ideo- 
logic 3 ' guarantee (every ideology has the function, among others, 
f producing a guarantee-eiiect): that one will never lose sight, 
through all its transformations, of the initial Subject; the guaran- 
tee that one is always dealing with the same Subject. In religious 
Genesis: that one is always dealing, in everything that happens, 
with one and the same Subject, God. In materialist genesis: that 
one is always dealing, whatever its transformations, with one 
and the same Subject, matter. The association of materialism and 
the genetic thus ultimately rests on an ideological schema of 

This ideological schema 'spontaneously' takes the form of 
empiricism. When it comes to tracking the transformations of the 
originary Subject, nothing works better [than] to provide, step 
by step, an exhaustive tally of what becomes of him amid his 
very transformations. And when he is transformed, one must be 
able to reconstruct all the details of the process which, even as it 
transforms him, maintains the originary Subject's Identity (in 
ev ery sense of the word). When it comes to not losing sight of 
|he individual whom one has thus identified, nothing works 
tetter than never losing sight of him. Empiricism adopts and 
s P°ntaneously 'lives 7 this singular logic of filiation in its practice 
of toiling \fifoture]. 7 * 
, ' maintain that the concept of genesis, constantly 'practised' 

the spontaneity of scientific ideology, is currently one of the 
§|; e atest epistemological obstacles to the development not only 

dialectical materialism, but also of historical materialism and 
e Majority of the sciences that depend on it, as well, doubtless, 

the life sciences and quite a few other natural sciences. It is 

e akirtg havoc in psychology, history, and so on. This concept 


is constantly practised; yet its theoretical claims to validity k 
never been tested, so crushing and so slight is the weight f^ 
'obviousness', that is, its ideological weight. lts 

Consider the tremendous power of this genetic prejudice 
the very moment when the Recent Discoveries compel us 
recognize, in the realm of the facts, that matters can, between th° 
animal and the human kingdoms, unfold in accordance with * 
schema that is quite different from that of the dialectic of th 
genesis of man-from-the-ape (the guarantee that, on conditio 
that the ape is properly 'tailed', one will, without losing sight of 
him for a moment, see him turn into a man); at the very moment 
when it appears that, on the contrary, it is necessary, in order to 
understand man, to set out from a result without a genesis (L e . 
without a filiation in which the identity of one and the same 
Subject is preserved), to set out from this creature-that-is-not- 
the-son-of-an-ape, which stands upright, and whose brain (too 
small) is likewise not a brain of the type son-of-the-brains-of-ape 
(it is much too big for genetic prejudices to function smoothly 
amid this scandalous downsizing) - at this very moment, there is 
a rush to embrace genesis in the human realm. For one has at 
last sighted the guilty party, the Originary Individual; he has 
been identified, he makes 'tools' of some unspecified sort, he 
lives in groups: hes the one, all right. We've got him this time. It is 
enough to 'tail' [filer] him, to track him, not to lose sight of him, 
since one is sure that at the end of this manhunt [filature], one 
will rediscover both the 1844 Manuscripts and Capitall No less. 
At that point, we will finally learn what this thing is made of - 
this thing that was obviously still quite vague prior to the Recent 
Discoveries - this thing we call a society and history. We shall 
into the bargain, finally learn what Capital and Marxism are 
made of, deep down. Finally, we shall learn, on the same 
occasion (a rather profitable one), what to think of Humanism 
and Theoretical Anti-Humanism. 

I may perhaps be pardoned for packing a bit of punch into 
what I say. What is required, what will be required to shake this 
ineradicable genetic prejudice, are storms of a very different order* 
Of course, I know what I am in for. Well-intentioned folk have 
wasted no time in telling me: 7y not only philosophers, for whoifl 
dealing in (transcendental) genesis is all part of the job, but, alas, 
historians too, although they deal with something quite unlike 


^tractions', for they constantly work on results produced by a 
3 cess [proc&s] without a subject (i.e. the very opposite of a 
P neS is)< Yet that concept is overwhelmed by the ideological 
^ ejudices of the Subject. The verdict is in: I sacrifice 'genesis' to 
Structures' I am in line for this endlessly repeated trial [proems], 

I shall not reply, for my accusers must be given their chance: 
r ter all, Man can also think. But precisely because we are 
j ea |ing with men and monkeys, and in order to remain within 
range of the sound waves generated whenever the troublesome 
rock of the man-monkey relation is cast into the ideological 
pond, I, too, shall take the liberty of utilizing (just this once) a 
Famous Quotation: the short, very clear sentence in which Marx 
tells us that it is not the ape who is the key to understanding 
man, but man who is the key to understanding the ape. 80 

Naturally, our good materialists have, for decades, been put- 
ting this quotation to all the geneticist uses they can think of. 
Marx meant, did he not, just like Hegel, that we see in man the 
development of what is in embryo in the ape - of what was 
already, even in the ape's day, the Man in the ape. It's a simple 
matter of making the text easier to read: as in Plato, there are 
passages in small print, the hard ones, and passages in big print, 
for the short-sighted. Everybody knows that when you put a 
short-sighted detective on a suspect's tail, you're better off 
assigning him a tall one or a fat one. Marx's sentence is, in sum, 
the proof in reverse of filiation /tailing [filiation/filature]: for, in 
man, there is never anything to be understood except the future 
of man, even in his ape of a father. 

In another text, 81 I put forward the idea that it is difficult to 
leave this short, very clear sentence standing in the context of 
the Contribution and Capital unless one construes it in a com- 
pletely different, non-historicist and therefore non-geneticist, 
Way. But one always has to say things several times, varying 
one's discourse, if need be. In the text in question, I discussed, 
above all, the epistemological significance of the short sentence: to 
w it, that knowledge only ever sets out from a result, and that the 
knowledge of the result (the knowledge of the mechanisms of 
capitalist society), to the extent that it plainly has to begin as the 
knowledge of a result, and a highly complex one, provides, for 
this reason, the keys needed to acquire knowledge of other, 
earlier, 'simpler' results (pre-capitalist societies). To change tack, 


let us now discuss this short sentence with respect to m 
result as such; let us, in other words, talk about the diale h^ rea ' 

I think Marx's text indicates that capitalism is a result 
that, like any result, it is the result of a historical pr 0c ' ^ 
everything that we have written, it has never been a questi S ^ 
anything other than History, which 'They' call, in their lan^u* 1 °* 
genesis. But capitalism is the result of a process that does not Ft' 
the form of a genesis. The result of what? Marx tells us sev 
times: of the process of an encounter of several distinct, defin > 
indispensable elements, engendered in the previous historic 1 
process by different genealogies that are independent of each 
other and can, moreover, be traced back to several possible 
'origins': accumulation of money capital, 'free' labour-power 
technical inventions, and so forth. To put it plainly, capitalism is 
not the result of a genesis that can be traced back to the feudal 
mode of production as if to its origin, its 'in-itself ', its 'embryonic 
form', and so on; it is the result of a complex process that 
produces, at a given moment, the encounter of a number of 
elements susceptible of [propre it] constituting it in their very 
encounter. Evolutionist, Hegelian or geneticist illusions notwith- 
standing, a mode of production does not contain, 'potentially', 
'in embryo', or 'in itself, the mode of production that is to 
'succeed' it. If it did, we would be unable to understand why so 
many examples of social formations governed by the feudal 
mode of production failed to 'give birth' to the capitalist mode 
of production. 

Obviously, since things are always 'happening', and, above 
all, since things have always-already happened, the half-pint 
historian can, at no great cost, afford himself the 'theoretical' 
pleasure of tracking them back through time and taking this 
succession for a filiation, in line with the good old religion of 
genesis. As Voltaire said a long time ago, if all sons have fathers, 
not all fathers have sons. But Voltaire's critique was still 
beholden to a dialectic of filiation that is doubtless not unrelated 
to familial ideology; to be very precise, the juridical familial 
ideology of 'succession' (read: of inheritance rights). We must go 
much further, and say that the Sons who count in the historical 
process have no father, because they need several, and these 
fathers are in their turn the sons not of a single father (or v* e 
would be going round in circles), but of several, and so on. 


t <jo not think that one loses history in this business. One 

taiflly does lose genesis, but that is a good loss. One also loses 

% the things that are obvious for historical empiricism, but that 

3 an excellent loss. One gains, quite simply, the possibility of 

nderstanding History, and that does, after all, present certain 

^vantages. And one also gains a few important perspectives on 

t he dialectic, whose rudiments we shall expound some day. 

I come back to our man and ape. If man can provide the key 
to the ape, the reason is above all that, setting out from man, 
w hat we can understand of the ape is how it was possible to 
make an ape, when one understands that man is not the son of 
the ape. That is how I would interpret Marx's short sentence- 
Understanding man provides the key to understanding the ape 
by showing that neither - the ape no more than the man - is the 
result of a genesis, that is, of a filiation that begins with a Subject 
who is identified with the origin, and whose authentic origin is 
guaranteed [garanti d'origine]. It's a pretty safe bet that those who 
throw themselves into the ideology of the genesis of the human 
societies discussed in Capital, starting out from the miracle 
identified by the Recent Discoveries, are in for a disappointment 
or two if they try to put a tail on this latter-day miracle. No 
doubt the dialectic of processes (which are not geneses) holds a 
few surprises in store for them, of the sort that have already 
devastated - theoretically, of course - all those who have under- 
taken to put a tail on a mode of production in order to trace its 
transformation into another mode of production, in a birth 
without (or with) labour pains. 

That, then, is the point I think one has to arrive at in order to 
track down to its last refuge the ideological argument that 
sustains, even in the case of serious Marxists, a kind of reasoning 
which others - who are also Marxists, but not serious ones - 
hasten to transform into a spiritualist Plea for Marxist Human- 
ism. I apologize for having had to go into such detail. But 
political experience (for lack of other kinds: but politics is an 
excellent teacher in this respect) teaches that it is not possible to 
m ake the slightest concession to ideology. Marx pointed that out 
^ his Critique of the Gotha Programme: one can make concessions 
^ politics - that is known as compromise - one can forge unions 
ln politics, but one can never forge a union with ideology. Marx 
added that one is especially well advised to respect this absolute 


rule, making no concessions whatsoever, above all when 
Union is the order of the day. Duly noted. poll tic;aj 

German Social Democracy, 'so as not to stand in the w 
unity' with the Lasalleans, 'so as not to disappoint them' k*^- °* 
this text of Marx's for fifteen years. For the sake of Unity's* lec * 


1. See, for example, Adam Schaff, Introduction to Semantics, Oxford 19f£. 
Marxism and the Human Individual, ed. Robert S. Cohen, introduction h 
Erich Fromm, based on a translation by Olgierd Wojtasiewicz, New 
York, 1970. When he first met Althusser, Schaff was a member of the 
Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party. 

2. This surprising way of referring to the Frankfurt School suggests that 
Althusser was not well acquainted with it. 

3. See, for example, Erich Fromm, Tlie Sane Society, New York, 1990 (1955); 
and, among the works Fromm published after Althusser wrote The 
Humanist Controversy', Tlie Revolution of Hope, New York, 1968; The 
Crisis of Psychoanalysis, New York, 1991 (1970). 

4. Erich Fromm, ed., Socialist Humanism, New York, 1965; London, 1967, 
which includes contributions by some three dozen hands. Althusser's 
essay 'Marxism and Humanism' is not among the 'inevitable omissions' 
that Fromm names and 'regrets' in his Introduction (p. xiii). [Trans.] 

5. Erich Fromm, letter of 27 September 1963 to Louis Althusser. Althusser 
kept a file of his correspondence with Erich Fromm; it confirms every- 
thing he says here. 

6. 'In fact, the objective of the revolutionary struggle has always been the 
end of exploitation and hence the liberation of man, but, as Marx 
foresaw, in its first historical phase, this struggle had to take the form of 
the struggle between classes. So revolutionary humanism could only be 
a "class humanism" ' 'Marxism and Humanism', FM 221. See also ibid./ 
pp. 121-2n. 

7. In a letter dated 18 November 1963, Althusser thanks Jean Laugier for 
his fine translation, which has not been preserved in Althusser's 

8. Erich Fromm, letter of 8 January 1964 to Louis Althusser. 

9. Cahiers de VISEA, June 1964; Critica Marxista, no. 2, 1964. 

10. Jorge Semprun, 'L'humanisme socialiste en question', darte*, January 
1965, reprinted in La Nouvelle critique, no. 164, March 1965, pp. 22-31. 

11. Jorge Semprun, The Long Voyage, trans. Richard Seaver, New York, 1964. 

12. In the context of the 'split in the international communist movement , 
the line followed by the 'Italians' rather closely reflected ideas defended 
by the Italian Communist Party, in opposition to the leadership of the 
French Communist Party and also to various 'ultra-left' and pro-Chinese 
tendencies. The Italians' took the helm of the Union des 6tudiants 


rnrnunistes (UEC) for a brief period in 1963-64, before the Communist 
party leadership reasserted its control over the organization in 1965. 
. c q U es Ranciere, La Legon d' Althusser, Paris, 1975 (partially translated as 
'On the Theory of Ideology: The Politics of Althusser', in Radical Philos- 
ophy Re<*der r ed. Roy Osborn and Roy Edgley, London, 1985, pp. 102-36), 
offers an interesting analysis of the 'Alrhusserians" position and the 
tactics adopted by the leaders of the Communist Party in response to 
the conflicts within the UEC. 

,3 As Althusser learned from Michel Verret's letter of 24 January 1966, the 
discussions at the 'Journees d'£tude des philosophies communis tes' 
(23-24 January 1966), a conference attended by the entire Political 
Bureau of the Communist Party, focused on the most recent of Roger 
Garaudy's books, From Anathema to Dialogue, trans. Luke O'Neill, Lon- 
don, 1967 (1965), as well as FM and RC. Unable to attend for health 
reasons, Althusser asked Verret to read the first part of TTPTF' at the 
conference. Verret's forty-five pages of handwritten notes on the pro- 
ceedings have been preserved in Althusser's archives, together with a 
revised written version of Garaudy's presentation, a typed seventy-five- 
page document that begins with the words 'A fundamental problem has 
been posed: in the name of science, an attack has been launched against 
Marxist humanism.' Garaudy's sharp attack on Althusser and his disci- 
ples provoked an equally sharp reply from Pierre Macherey, among 

14. The Central Committee meeting on 'ideological and cultural problems' 
held in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil on 11-13 March 1966 (for the 
proceedings, see Colliers du communisme, nos 5-6, May-June 1966 and 
Afiwles, passim) marked an important stage in the development of the 
French Communist Party's strategy for the union of the French left and 
the 'peaceful transition to socialism' The meeting focused on the theme 
of the autonomy of 'culture' and cultural production ('to reject or hinder 
the experimental demands of literature and art is to strike a serious 
blow to the development of culture and, indeed, the human spirit in 
general debate and research are vital to the development of science. 
The Communist Party has not the least intention of thwarting such 
debate or interfering in it in order to assert predetermined truths, much 
less of abruptly closing off, in authoritarian fashion, ongoing debate by 
specialists.') The resolution adopted at the end of the discussion reflected 
the controversy then raging around the theme of 'Marxist humanism'; 
virtually every contribution to the discussion made reference to Althus- 
ser's essay 'Marxism and Humanism' The final resolution included the 
following passage: 

There is a Marxist humanism. Unlike the abstract humanism which the 
bourgeoisie mobilizes to mystify social relations and justify exploitation 
and injustice, this humanism derives directly from the historical task of 
the working class. To uphold such humanism is by no means to reject an 
objective conception of reality in favour of an impulsive emotionalism. 
On the contrary, Marxism is the humanism of our times because it is 


based on a rigorously scientific conception of the world; but ■ 
divorce its attempt to understand reality from its resolve to K ^^ n ot 
the benefit of all men. ^^8* it f 0r 

Althusser responded to this text in a typed twenty-seven-n 
addressed to 'the comrades of the Central Committee of th % ^ 
Communist Party', in which he affirmed, in essence: (1) that th tet ^ [ 
tion was self-contradictory, because it effectively, albeit tacitlv ^ u * 
off an ongoing debate; and (2) that it conflated political comer °^ 
which was necessary, with theoretical compromise, which ^ 
unacceptable. ^ 

15. There follow Althusser's introductory notes to the individual text k 
had initially planned to publish in the form of a 'dossier' on the deb f 
about humanism, notably his commentary on Jorge Semprun's contrf 
bution to the debate. Since this 'dossier' is not included here, neither ar 
Althusser's introductory notes. (See the Editors' Introduction to 'The 
Humanist Controversy'.) 

16. The phrases Althusser quotes are taken from Semprun, 'L'humanisme 
socialiste en question'. 

17 Althusser expands on this idea in LP. 

18. Here Althusser intended to insert a note that he seems never to have 
written. It would probably have been a reference to 'The Historical Task 
of Marxist Philosophy', pp. 169-80 above. 

19. RC 119. 

20. Althusser incorporated a slightly modified version of the following 
section of 'The Humanist Controversy' (pp. 233-41) into the paper he 
presented at Jean Ward's Hegel seminar in February 1968; the paper was 
published in 'Sur le rapport de Marx a Hegel', in Jacques d'Hondt, ed., 
Hegel et la pensee moderne, Paris, 1970, and reprinted in Letiine et la 
philosophie, suivi de Marx et Unine devant Hegel, Paris, 1972 (see the 
Editors' Introduction to "The Humanist Controversy'). The translation of 
the passage given here closely follows Ben Brewster's ('MRM' 176-85)/ 
except, of course, where the text of 'Sur le rapport de Marx a Hegel' 
departs from that of 'The Humanist Controversy' One or two minor 
errors in Brewster's translation have been corrected, and a few changes 
made for the sake of stylistic consistency. 

21. See 'On the Young Marx', FM 49-86. This essay was dedicated to 
Auguste Cornu, author of the monumental Karl Marx et Friedrich Engels, 
Paris, 1958-70. 

22. In the version of 'Sur le rapport de Marx a Hegel' published in Unirte et 
la philosophie (Paris, 1975, p. 62), Althusser modified this sentence to 
read: 'Cut the head off a duck and it keeps running all the same/ [Trans.] 

23. See 'On Feuerbach', pp, 85-154 above. 

24. The parenthetical phrase becomes 'Man-Natuie-Sinnlichkeit' in the ver- 
sion of 'Sur le rapport de Marx a Hegel' in Lenine et la philosophie. [Trans A 

25. Gattung, a word that represents - as Althusser notes in 'On Feuerbach / 
p. 137 - a 'headache' for translators. The headache is compounded here 
by the fact that, first, Gattungswesen in Marx is usually translated a s 


Species being', and, second, that the expression Althusser most often 
u ses to translate die menschliche Gattung, le genre humain (the human 
enU s), can also mean 'the human race' {le genre humain is used in this 
Lnse in the chorus of the 'Internationale', for example). [Trans.] 
^jthusser is quoting freely from Friedrich Engels's Ludwig Feuerbacli and 
the End of Classical German Philosophy. 
7 see On the Materialist Dialectic', FM 200n.: 

One further word on the 'negation of the negation'. Today it is official 
convention to reproach Stalin with having suppressed the 'laws of the 
dialectic', and more generally with having turned away from Hegel, the 
better to establish his dogmatism. At the same time, it is willingly proposed 
that a certain return to Hegel would be salutary. One day perhaps these 
declarations will become the object of some proof. In the meantime, it 
seems to me that it would be simpler to recognize that the expulsion of 
the 'negation of the negation' from the domain of the Marxist dialectic 
might be evidence of the real theoretical perspicacity of its author. 

28. See 'Letter to Jean Lacroix', SH 197-230. 

29. See, for example, Jacques Derrida, 'De la Gramma tologie', Critique, no. 
223-4, December 1965-January 1966; the revised and expanded version 
of this text released in 1967 has been translated as On Grammatology, 
trans. Gayatri Chakaravorty Spivak, Baltimore, MD, 1976. Althusser 
heavily annotated both the offprint of the first version of this work, 
given to him by Derrida, and his copy of Derrida 's 'Freud et la scene de 
l'ecriture', Tel Quel, no. 26, summer 1966 (Treud and the Scene of 
Writing', in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago, 1978, 
pp. 196-231). Generally speaking, Derrida had a far greater influence on 
Althusser's thinking than this solitary reference to him in the works 
Althusser published in his lifetime might lead us to suppose. Althusser's 
library contained many heavily annotated offprints of texts by Derrida. 

30. The section of 'The Humanist Controversy' included in 'MRH' ends 
here. See Note 20 above. 

31. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 364. 

32. Marx, 'Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: 
Introduction', trans, anon, ON 3: 182. 

33. Ibid., p. 175. 

34. Marx, 'Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law', trans. 
Martin Milligan and Barbara Ruhemann, CW 3: 31. See also 'On the 
Jewish Question', trans. Clemens Dutt, CW 3: 154. 

35. The Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbiicher (German-French Annals), only one 
issue of which saw the light, in February 1844. 

36. Marx, Letter of September 1843 to Arnold Ruge, trans. Clemens Dutt, 
CW 3: 144-5, translation modified. See also Ludwig Feuerbach, Intro- 
duction to The Essence of Christianity, in FB, 109-10: 'Religion is the 
solemn unveiling of man's hidden treasures, the avowal of his innermost 
thoughts, the open confession of the secrets of his love.' 

37. EC, 112-3: 

The doctrine of the Creation in its characteristic significance arises only 


on that standpoint where man in practice makes Nature me 
servant of his will and needs. When, on the contrary, man ^. ^ 
himself only on the practical standpoint and looks at the world" 3 *!! 068 
thence, making the practical standpoint the theoretical one also K ^ 
disunion with Nature; he makes Nature the abject vassal of his ? ^ 
interest, of his practical egoism. Utilism is the essential theo 
Judaism. ^ °* 

38. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Mill- 
gan and Dirk J. Struik, CW 3: 333. 

39. Ibid., p. 290. 

40. See, for example, Michel Simon's contribution to the debate on 'Marxism 
and Humanism', La Nouvelle critique, no. 165, April 1965, pp. 96-132- see 
also Jean Kanapas intervention at the Central Committee meeting held 
at Argenteuil, Cahiers du communisme, nos 5-6, May-June 1966. 

41. Letter of 21-22 September 1890 from Engels to Joseph Bloch, in Marx 
and Engels, Selected Correspondence, ed, S.W. Ryazanskaya, trans. I. 
Lasker, 3rd edn., Moscow 1975, pp. 394-6. This letter is analysed in 
'Appendix to "Contradiction and Over-Detennination" ', FM 117-28. 

42. Antonio Gramsci, 'The Study of Philosophy', in Selections from the Prison 
Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, 
New York, 1971, p. 353: 'Each individual is the synthesis not only of 
existing relations, but of the history of these relations. He is a precis of 
all the past.' Althusser heavily annotated his copy of Gramsci, CEuvres 
choisies, Paris, 1959. 

43. The wording of Althusser's translations of the Sixth Thesis varies, as 
does his use of capital letters. The expression he usually translates as 
'the essence of Man' is das menschlic)u> Wesen. [Trans.] 

44. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 
written. It would probably have been a reference to GI 45: 'As though 
[nature and history] were two separate "things" and man did not always 
have before him an historical nature and a natural history.' 

45. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 
written. It would probably have been a reference to ibid., pp. 43, 253: 

Where speculation ends, where real life starts, there consequently begins 
real, positive science, the expounding of the practical activity, of the 
practical process of development of men. When reality is described/ a 
self-sufficient philosophy loses its medium of existence. At best its place 
can only be taken by a summing-up of the most general results, abstrac- 
tions which are derived from the observation of the historical develop- 
ment of men. . . One has to 'leave philosophy aside' one has to leap 
out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality- 

46. No doubt an error for 'Feuerbachian' [Trans.] 

47 Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 
written. It would probably have been a reference to The German Ideology ' 
vol. 2, part 3. 

48. Althusser had made plans to write a book 'settling accounts with our 
former philosophical consciousness' (see Marx, Preface to A Contribution 


f the Critique of Political Economy r trans, anon, CW 29: 264), Only the first 
five pages have been preserved in a folder that bears the title '66-67 
(unfinished) "La coupure" [The break]' Dated January 1967, Althusser's 
text begins with the words; 'This book is a settling of accounts; 
49 Althusser's translation is 'rapports de commerce mutuel'; the English 
translation of Vie German Ideology usually cited in the present volume 
has 'forms of intercourse' [Trans] 

50. Gl 47 

51. Written above the phrase 'doesn't give a damn about' [sefout], in a hand 
that is probably not Althusser's, is the alternative 'couldn't care less 
about' [se moque]. Sefout has not been crossed out. 

52. Gl 263; see also 463. 

53. Ibid., p. 61: 

This conception of history comprehend[s] the form of intercourse 
connected with and created by this mode of production as the basis 
of all history; and describ[es] it in its action as the state, and also 
explain[s] how all the different theoretical products and forms of con- 
sciousness, religion, philosophy, morality, etc., etc., arise from it, and 
trace[s] the process of their formation from that basis. 

Althusser's translation has 'genese' ', genesis, for 'process of their forma- 
tion' The German is Entstehungsprozefi. 

54. Ibid., pp. 89-92. 

55. We have emended the text, which reads 'historical materialism', an 
obvious error. 

56. Gl 61; the German is idealistische Flausen. Althusser's translation has 
billevesees, a word which is not found in the translation published by the 
Party publishing house Editions sociales, the text Althusser usually cites, 
but is used in the Pleiade edition. 

57 This and the following paragraph also appear in S1SS 66. 

58. See 'The Philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist Theoretical Research' 

59. Althusser intended to insert a 'note on Lenin' here that he seems never 
to have written, 

60. See Note 48 above. 

61 Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 

62. Part II of 'The Humanist Controversy', unlike Part I, is untitled. More- 
over, the most recent typed version of the text does not indicate that 
what follows is the second part; a horizontal line has simply been drawn 
across the page here. We have introduced this subdivision on the basis 
of an older version of the text - the only one, in all probability, that 
Althusser typed himself (see the Editors' Introduction to 'The Humanist 

63. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 
written. It would probably have consisted of a few extracts from 


the texts he takes issue with. We shall limit ourselves to &i • 
example: 8 or\ e 

Transcendence, if we take the word in the strict etymological spn 
rise above something - has, as applied to man, who rises above 6 "*° 
and also constantly rises above himself, rises above his proper n h^ 1 ^' 
perfectly acceptable meaning. I am convinced that the Christians' c **' a 
tion of transcendence is the awareness, in mystified form, of C *^ 
vocation to rise above nature. To the Christians' question ( iwl S 
mystified in its very formulation), we can provide a valid response T\!* 
theory of transcendence has already been produced: it is everything th * 
has already been acquired by Marxism, even if some things remain to h 
added. (Jean Suret-Canale, 'Marxism is Both a Science and a Humanism' 
published version of a presentation at the Central Committee meetin 
held at Argenteuil, Cahiers du communisme, nos. 5-6, May-June 1966 
pp. 245-61) 

64. Of the six 'problems' listed by Althusser, only the first is discussed here 
Althusser nevertheless felt that he had made sufficient progress on the 
text to have a secretary type it (see the Editors' Introduction to 'The 
Humanist Controversy'). 

65. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 

66. See especially Wilhelm Dilthey, Introduction to the Human Sciences, trans. 
Ramon J. Betanzos, Detroit 1988. Althusser extensively annotated his 
copy of the first volume of this work. 

67. Let us note that Althusser had been attacked on this point by Merleau- 
Ponty (The Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. Joseph Bien, Evanston, II, 
1973 (1955), p. 63n, translation modified): 

Going from Engels to Plekhanov, one easily arrives at the views of 
contemporary orthodoxy, which are that the dialectic is not a sort of 
knowledge; it is rather a group of verifications, and it is valid only in its 
'general content' (interaction, development, qualitative leaps, contradic- 
tions) [SH 248]. This mixture of positive spirit and dialectic and positiv- 
ism transfers into nature man's way of being: it is nothing less than 

68. Althusser intended to insert a 'note on Kojeve' here that he seems never 
to have written. 

69. Friedrich Engels, Herr Eugen Diihring's Revolution in Science (Anti-Dtihr- 
ing), trans. Emile Burns, CW 25: 125 and passim. 

70. Althusser intended to insert a note here. He probably had the work of 
Andr£ Leroi-Gourhan in mind (for example, Gesture and Speech, trans. 
Anna Bostock Berger, Cambridge, MA, 1993). 

71. See, for example, the following passage: 

Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it 
really is the source - next to nature, which supplies it with the material 
that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is 
the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an 


extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself. 
(Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, trans, Clemens Dutt, CW 25: 452) 

Marx, Capital, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, New York, 
n ' 1967, vol. 1: 179. 
7-3 5uret-Canale, Presentation at the Central Committee meeting at Argen- 

teuil, pp. 246-8. 

74 Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 

75 Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, pp. 297, 336. This phrase 
comes in for high praise in the article by Suret-Canale that Althusser 
analyses here. [The word rendered by acte in Althusser's translation of 
the 1844 Manuscripts and 'action' or 'act' in the Collected Works of Marx 
and Engels is Akt in the original German. -Trans.] 

76, Engels, 'The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man', 

in Dialectics of Nature, pp. 452-64, 
fj. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 


78. This passage exploits the verbal links between filiation; filature or 'tailing', 
in the sense in which a detective 'tails' a suspect; and filer, 'to tail' 

79. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 

80. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ernst 
Wangermann, CW 28: 42: 'The anatomy of man is a key to the anatomy 
of the ape. On the other hand, indications of higher forms in the lower 
species of animals can only be understood when the higher forms 
themselves are known/ 

81. Althusser intended to insert a note here that he seems never to have 
written. In all probability, he would have referred the reader to RC 
124 ff . 

82. The text which is probably unfinished, ends here. 



discourse 48-9, 50 
Alain (fimil-August Chartier) 4, 

Alembert, Jean Le Rond, D' 4 
alienation 125 

Feuerbach and 89, 149-50, 
241-3, 248-9 

Hegel and 89, 238-40 

of labour 249-50 

men and women 144 

process of 261 
Althusser, Louis 

depression xxxvii, xlvii 

humanist controversy 

rising career xi-xii 

structuralist debate xli-xlv 

see also works in bold titles 

consciousness 100 

and religion 92 

without human 'seeing' 108 

ethnology 196 

and Feuerbach 90 

primitive and non-primitive 
societies 21-4 

speculative 233, 251 

see also LeVi-Strauss, Claude 
Anti-During (Engels) 170, 185 
Aragon, Louis xxvi, 144 

humanist controversy xxix 
Aristotle 20, 173 

and Feuerbach 111 
Arnault, Jacques xxviii-xxix, xxxi, 


the unconscious and ideology 

Bachelard, Gaston xii, 7, 8, 232 

Badiou, Alain 19, 75 

Balibar, fitienne xxxvi, 21, 35-6 
formalism xlii-xliii 
intervention in practice 78 

Barth,Karl 90 

Bebel, August 
Die Frau und der Sozialismus 



Bergson, Henri 5, 30 
Bernstein, Eduard 185 
Bettelheim, Charles I95n 
Blum, Leon 185 
bourgeois ideology 182-94 
bourgeoise ideology 

and humanism 243 
Brossard, Michel 225 

Cahiers de I'ISEA 224 
Cahiers Marxistes-ltninistes 
(journal) xxxiii 

Maoists xxxvi 
Canguilhem, Georges xxxix, 7, 

Capital (Marx) 126, 128 

constructing theory 197 

forms 20-1 

humanism 294-7 

philosophy and science 170-5 

scientific proof 193-4 

social labour 287, 290, 291 

theoretical maturity 227 

mode of production 35 
Cauchy, Augustin, Baron 77 
causality 177, 178, 198 

structural 200-2 
Cavailles 7 

Cultural Revolution 

revolution in practice 161 

Sino-Soviet split xxvi-xxvii, 

communism of 148 

Feuerbach interprets 112, 

miracles of Jesus 115-16 

and the specular relation 129 

exploitation 187 

historical materialism 15 
struggle lii-liii 

theoretical system and 215 
Cohen, Francis 225 

Feuerbach and 243-4 
and love 148 
Marx adopts 230-1 
Communist Party of France xii, 
225, 299-300« 
attempt to transform ideology 

and de-Stalinization xxiv-xxv 
humanist controversy 

Sino-Soviet split xxxiv 
and theory xxii 
Communist Party of Italy 224 
Comte, Auguste 4, 5 
Condillac, fitienne 236 
defining humanity 279-80 
Feuerbach on 100-13 
see also under psychoanalytic 
theory: unconscious 
'Contribution to the Critique of 
Hegel's Philosophy of Law' 
(Marx) 244 
Cornu, Auguste 233 
Corpet, Olivier 33-7 
Cournot, Antoine-Augustin 5-6 
Critica Marxista (journal) 224, 225 
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of 

Law (Marx) 122 
Critique of Practical Reason (Kant) 



■fique of the Gotha Programme 
° rl (Marx) 297 

pante Alighieri 218 
parwin, Charles 

defining humans 283, 285 
perrida, Jacques xxxix, lii 

erasure 241 
Descartes, Rene* 

and Feuerbach 101-5, 111-13 

rationalist idealism 3-5 

return to 7 
dialectic 178 

historical process of 237-9 

of man and Nature 241-2, 
281-2, 301-2h 
Dialectical and Historical 

Materialism (Stalin) 188 
dialectical materialism 13-14, 

and genesis 292-6 

ideology or science? 1-ii 

lags behind historical 
materialism 169-82 

progress of sciences and 182-3 

theory and practice xiii, 208-9 

Dialectics of Nature (Engels) 185, 

284, 287, 291, 304« 
Diderot, Denis 4, 236 

discoveries of theology 274 
Dilthey, Wilhelm 281 
discourse 14 

aesthetic 70-1 

forms of 48-9, 64, 75 

ideological 37-8, 74, 122-4 

theory of 75-82 

of the unconscious 54-9, 63-4, 

During, Eugen 171-2, 185, 282 
Durkheim, Emil 5 

The 1844 Manuscripts (Marx) 
liii-lv, 85-6, 124-5, 227 
concept of object 122 
'epistemological break' 

man defined by labour 286-8 
shift away from Feuerbach 

triple theoretical encounters 
The Eighteenth Brumiere (Marx) 

Elements of Dialectical 

Materialism (Althusser et al) 
'Elements of Self-Criticism' 

(Althusser) xl 
Eliot, George 87 
empiricism 184-6, 189-90 
filiation 293 
views of reality 276 
Engels, Friedrich 159,254 
Anti-During 170, 185 
development of philosophy 

Dialectics of Nature 185, 284, 

287, 291, 304rt 
Ludwig Feuerbach 89, 150 
new knowledge 173-4 
The Origins of the Family 144 
politics as social practice 

scientific knowledges 213-14 
see also The German Ideology 
(with Marx) 
Epicurus 91, 173 
epistemology 8 



The Essence of Christianity 

(Feuerbach) 99, 112, 114-21, 
135-6, 234 

singular xliii-xliv 
Establet, Roger xlii 
Ethics (Spinoza) xv 
ethnology 24 

ideological limits 133-4 
evolutionism 184-5, 188-90, 
defining humans 283-5 

Feuerbach, Ludwig xxvi, xli, 

and alienation 241-3, 248-9 
Althusser's argument against 

basic themes and propositions 

and communism 243-4 
consciousness and Absolute 

Knowledge 101-14, 121 
The Essence of Christianity 99, 

135-6, 234 
essence of man and religion 

and Hegel 87-90 
humanism 279 
Marx adheres to liv-lv, 244-7 
Marx shifts away from 247-57 
no theory of history 237 
nominalism 140-2 
sexuality and intersubjectivity 

species theory 137-50 
specular theory of the object 

124-5, 126-32 
Theoretical Humanism 233-6 

'transcendental biology' 

see also Ludwig Feuerbach 
(Engels); 'Theses on 
Feuerbach' (Marx) 
The Fiery Brook (Feuerbach) 87 
For Marx (Althusser) xi-xii 
'catastrophic' revisionism 

international response to xxxiv 

practice xl 

publication 225 

and Spinoza xv 
formalism xliii 
Foucault, Michel xxxix 
Fourier, Francois 5-6 
Die Frau und der Sozialismus 

(Bebel) 144 
French philosophy 

development of 3-10 

and Marxist theory 10-15 

Utopian socialism 270 
Freud, Anna 54 
Freud, Sigmund 5 

and French philosophy 7 

hermeneutics 135 

Interpretation of Dreams 39 

love and sexuality 146 

and psychoanalytic theory 39, 

Psychopathology of Everyday Life 

regional and general theory 43, 

the subject 78 

Three Essays on Sexuality 42 

Totem and Taboo 42 

and the unconscious 53-4, 59, 



promnft/ Erich 222-4 
^rationalism 57 

Galileo Galilei 173 
Garaudy, Roger xxvii-xxviii, 
xxxv, 129, 156, 225, 299n 

humanist controvery xxv-xxxi 
Gaulle, Charles de xxv 
The German Ideology (Marx and 
Engels) liv-lv, 85-6, 124-5, 
128, 141, 150, 174, 188, 227 

'epistemological break' 268-9 

historical materialism 256-63 

individual's productive forces 

Social-Democratic party 162 
Gero, Erno 158 
Goshgarian, G. M. 155-9 
Gramsci, Antonio 254 

absolute knowledge xviii 

historicism 186 

philosophy of history xiv 
Greek science 173 
Groupe Spinoza xxxvii-xxxviii 

creation xlvii 
Gueroult, Martial 7 

Hanfi, Zawar 87 

Hegel, Georg W. F. xxvi, 122 

Absolute Spirit 92-3, 111-12 

alienation 248-9 

concrete-universal 140 

dialectic liii-liv 

essence of Man 250 

evolutionism 190 

and Feuerbach 87-90 

and French philosophy 7 

and German idealism 234-6 

and history 104,237-9 

Logic 240-1 

and Marx 175, 178-9 

Phenomenology of Mind 88 

world turned upside-down 128 
Heidegger, Martin 281 

and French philosophy 7 

Weltanschauung 90 
hermeneutics 132, 134-5 
historical materialism 37 

defining humans 284-5 

dialecticat materialism lags 
behind 169-82 

and French philsophy 11-12, 

in The German Ideology 256-63 

ideology or science? liii 

problems of humanism 273 

progress of sciences and 182-3 

and psychoanalytic theory 

strategic questions 15 

theoretical 195-202 
The Historical Task of Marxist 
Philosophy' (Althusser) xi, 
xx, xlvii, xlviii, 1-li, 159-218 

introduction 155-9 

form of empiricism 186 

absorbed into theory xiv-xv 

end of 139-40, 142-3 

Feuerbach and 237 

and Hegel 237-40 

and nature 302n 

as a process 275 

science of xix-xx, 209-10, 215, 

theory of species 149-50 
The Holy Family (Marx) 123, 124 
human sciences see social sciences 




Communist controversy 

communist project of xxiv-xxv 
and de-Stalinization xxiv 
defining humans 275, 278-85, 

epistemological obstacles/ 

problems 271-8 
Feuerbach and liv, 232-6, 

and French Marxism 11 
and historical process 275 
ideology of 268-70, 274-5 
individuality within 275 
the science of history 263-6 
and social labour 285-90 
Stirner declares as religion 

structure of social formations 

theoretical 183-8, 251, 252-3 
The Humanist Controversy' 

(Althusser) xi, xlvii, xlviii 
introduction 221-2 
transformation of philosophy 

defining 275, 278-85 
dialectic with Nature 241-2 
and history 142-3 
and religion 91-4 
and sexuality 143-9 
and social labour 285-90 
supra-humans 141-2 
theory of species and 137-50 
'transcendental biology' 

vision of 108-9 
Husserl, Edmund 4, 112 

and French philosophy 7 
Hyppolite, Jean 7 

idealism xxxix-xl 
Feuerbach and Hegel 89 
French philosophy 3-10 
German 234-6, 237 

spiritualist/religious 280 

Althusser attempts to transform 

art and the unconscious 

and critique of Feuerbach xlix-1 
and discourse 37-8 
and humanism 258-9 
individuals as subjects xlvi 
interpellation of subject 51-3 
L£vi-Strauss misunderstands 

19-21, 27-8 
Marxist theory of 122-30 
and Marx's 'epistemological 

break' 267-70 
and philosophy li-lvi 
and science 14, 191-2« 
as social practice 214-15 
and sociology 211-12« 
solutions, not discoveries 

and spiritualism 283-4 
structure of 127-37 
struggle against bourgeois 

and theory xiii-xiv, 196, 

215-18, 262-3 
and the unconscious 53-63 
see also theory 
and humanism 275 



re al and imaginary limits 
^tentionality 113 
interpretation of Dreams (Freud) 39 

The Jewish Question (Marx) 122 

^ant, Immanuel 95, 173 

Critique of Practical Reason 5 

Feuerbach 'transcends' 234-6 

and French philosophy 7 

religious-spiritual philosophy 

theoretical versus practical 
reason 112 

Transcendental Subject 109 

Welt and Umwelt 95 
Kautsky, Karl 185 
Khrushchev, Nikita xxxiii 

de-Stalinization xxiii-xxvi 
kinship structures 27-31 

-effect 14, 72 

Absolute 102-14, 121, 150, 214, 

new 'continents' of 229-30 

process of 265-6 

and psychoanalytic theory 39 

savoir and connaissance 213 

scientific 213-14 

self- 101-2 
Koyr£, Alexandre 7, 232 
Kriege, Hermann 185 

alienation of 248-50 
defining man by 285-90 
Stalin's concept of power 197 

Lacan, Jacques xxxix 
the big Other 60-1 

debate on structuralism xli 
elaboration of psychoanalytic 

theory 43-7 
on Feuerbach xlv 
language and unconscious 69 
and regional theory 66-7 
structure of the unconscious 75 
and truth 78 

Lacroix, Jean 224 

language 80-2 
laws of 71 

and psychoanalysis 63-4 
signifies 48, 50, 63-4 
and the unconscious 56, 60-74 
see also discourse 

Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent 173 

Leibniz, Gottfried 173 

Lenin, V. L 195, 199w, 232 
concrete analysis 13 
displacement of dominance 197 
historical materialism 266, 270 
and ideology of proletariat 

Materialism and Empirio-criticism 

136, 170, 185, 216 
political theory and practice 

xvi, 159-67, 214 
theory of reflection 126-7 
What Is To Be Done? 160, 167rt, 

'Lenin and Philosophy' 
(Althusser) xx 

L£vi-Strauss, Claude xlix 
Althusser's polemics against 

'human spirit' 28-30, 31 n 
ideological limits 132-4 
kinship structures 27-31 
and linguistics 45-6 
misunderstands Marx 19-31 



L6vi-Strauss, Claude (cont.) 
production 21-6 
role in philosophy 9 
structuralist debate xli-xlvi 

linguistics 8 
constraints 76 
and discourses 72-3 
and General theory 80-2 
and psychoanalysis 43-7 
and regional theory 66 

Logic (Hegel) 240-1 

love 147-8 
and communism 148 

Lowith, Karl 
Vom Hegel zu Nietzsche 90 

Ludwig Feuerbach (Engels) 89 

Macherey, Pierre xliii, 225 
Machiavelli, Niccolo 16« 

religion 91 
Madonia, Franca 155 
Malebranche, Nicolas 173173 
Mamardashvili, Merab 157-8 
Mao Zedong 198/t 

and Cahiers Marxistes-leninistes 

Sino-Soviet split xxvi-xxvii 
Marty, Eric lvitt 
Marx, Karl 6 

1844 Manuscripts liv-lv 
'Contribution to the Critique of 
Hegel's Philosophy of Law' 
criticism of religion 122-3 
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of 

Law 122 
Critique of the Gotha Programme 

The 1844 Manuscripts 85_ fi 
124-5, 247-53 

The Eighteenth Brumiere 199^ 
'epistemological breaks' 

227-32, 251-2, 267-70 
and Feuerbach liv-lv, 244-7 
and Hegel 175,178-9 
The Holy Family 123, 124 
new knowledge 173-4 
'On the Jewish Question' 122 

science of history 263-6 
shifts from Feuerbach 247-57 
species theory and Feuerbach 

structure of ideology 127-37 
takes up communism 230-1 
theoretical anti-humanism 

theory of ideology 122-30 
'Theses on Feuerbach' 124-5, 

see also Capital; The German 

Ideology (with Engels); 

anti-spiritualist argument 9 
against bourgeois ideology 

'catastrophic' revisionism 

distortions of 179, 182-3 
empiricism and pragmatism 

within French philosophy 

Hegelian dialectic liii-liv 
and human sciences 204-5 
lag between philosophy and 

science 169-82 



t £vi-Strauss misunderstands 

^an defined by labour 285-7 
philosophical categories 265-6 
science versus theory 11-15 
S cienrific proof 193-4 
theory of xii, xli, 159-67, 

workers' movements 167 
and the French CP 
Marxist Theory and the 
Communists (Althusser) 
'Marx's Relation to Hegel' 

(Althusser) xi 
Maspero, Francois 158, 225 
and genesis 292-3 
see dialectical materialism; 
historical materialism 
Materialism and Empirio-criticism 

(Lenin) 136, 185, 216 
Matheron, Francois 1, 19, 85-7, 

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 7, 8, 10 

and the unconcious 54 
Mitin, Mark Borisovich 155-8 
Mitterand, Francois xxv 
Montesquieu, Charles de 
Secondat de 
the nature of the state xxi 
Mougin, Henri 7 
Mury, Gilbert xxv, xxvii 
L£vi-Strauss and 27 
and psychoanalytic theory 

and Schelling 98 


dialectic with man 201-2/1, 
241-2, 281-2 

'transcendental biology' 97-101 
Navarri, Genevieve 225 

and L£vi-Strauss 26-7 
Nietzsche, Friedrich 5, 135 
nominalism xlviii 

and Feuerbach 140-2 
La Nouvelle critique (journal) 225 

humanist controversy 
xxviii-xxxi, xxxiii 

'On Feuerbach' (Althusser) xlvii, 
xlviii-1, liv, Iv, 87-150 
introduction 85-7 
'On L£vi-Strauss' (Althusser) 

'On the Jewish Question' (Marx) 

The Origins of the Family (Engels) 

the Other 
Lacan's 60-1 
sexual relations 145-6 

Pascal, Blaise 279 

personality cults 184 

phenomenology 112, 115, 281 
reductionism 1171-8 

Phenomenology of Mind (Hegel) 

'The Philosophical Conjuncture 
and Marxist Theoretical 
Research' (Althusser) xviii, 
xix, xxxi, xxxv, xxxvi-xxxvii, 
break with idealist tendencies 




and ideology li-lvi 

opening new 'continents' 

overview of French 3-10 

practice of 207-18 

relationship to politics 
xviii-xxii, 217-18 

theory and xvii-xviii 

world turned upside-down 128 
Picard, Raymond 8 
Plato 173,295 
Plekhanov, G. V 188 

practice of 207-18 

relationship with philosophy 

as social practice 214-15 

and theory xvi-svii, 168 
Politzer, Georges 7, 54 
Ponge, Francis 144 
pragmatism 185-6, 217 

capitalist mode of 35 

forces of 197 

L6vi-Strauss misunderstands 

relations of 25-6, 27-31 
Proudhon, Pierre 185 
psychoanalytic theory 36 

art and ideology xlv-xlvi 

character of the unconscious 

id, ego and superego 60 

ideology and the unconscious 

Lacan's elaboration of 43-7 

libido, instincts and drives 70, 

and linguistics 43-7 

Oedipus complex 62 
and practice 67-8 

regional versus general theorv 
38-47, 63-9 ^ 

unconscious structured like 

language 60-74 
psychology 203-5 
Psychopathology of Everyday Hf e 

(Freud) 39 

Rikosi, Maty^s 158 

French philosophy 3-10 

Reading Capital (Althusser) 
xi-xii, 75, 225 
the exceptional xl 
international response to xxxiv 
and Spinoza xv 

atheistic humanism as 258 
and consciousness 93-4 
Diderot on theology 274 
and Feuerbach 128 
French religious-spiritual 

philosophy 3-10 
God as exterior self of man 91, 

and humanity 91-2 
specular relations 128-9 
spiritual idealism 280, 283-4 
'transcendental biology' of 
Feuerbach 97-101 

Ricardo, David 247 

Ricoeur, Paul 7, 10, 132 

Rochet, Waldeck xxvi, xxix, xxxv, 

he Rouge et Noir (Stendahl) 70, 73 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 7, 236 
primitive societies 21-2 
purposes of religion 91-2 



revolutionary in practice 160-7 

see also Lenin, V. I. 

Saint-Simon, Claude, Count de 

Sartre, Jean-Paul 7, 8, 144 

and the unconcious 54 
Saussure, Ferdinand de 

general theory of linguistics 
Schaff, Dr Adam 222-3 
Schelling, R W, J. von 98 

Aristotelian 104-5 

discourse 48-50, 77 

history and 210-11 

human vision and 108-9 

and ideology liii 

and man's self-knowledge 121 

new 'continents' of knowledge 
173-8, 199 

and psychoanalysis 41, 42 

theory and xvii-xviii 
Sebag, Lucien 132 
Semp run, Jorge 224-5 

'Marxism and Humanism' xxix 

intersubjectivity of human 
species 143-9 
Simon, Michel 225 
Smith, Adam 247, 250 
social sciences 196, 202-7 

'human sciences' 202-7 

and Marxist theory 204-5 

French 270 

Levi-Strauss's studies 21-4 

theory of 254-5 

sociology 203-7 

and ideology 211-12n 
species, theory of 137-50 
Spinoza, Baruch 

Althusser calls upon xv, xvii 

concepts don't bark 210-11 

Ethics xv 

the image 136-7 

religion 91, 93 

singular essences 30, 35-6 

substance 65 

world turned upside-down 128 
Stalin, Josef 238 

Dialectical and Historical 
Materialism 188 

labour-power 197 
Stalinism xxii-xxiv 

and the Cultural Revolution 

Montesquieu and xxi 

be Rouge et Noir 70, 73 
Stirner, Max 

The Ego and His Own 258 
Stoicism 173 
structure and structuralism 

Althusser's argument against 

anthropology 133-4 

causality 200-2 

discourse 50-1 

Feuerbach's mirror structure 

of ideology 127-37 

as philosophical fraud xii 

and political theory xvi-xvii 

purged xx-xxi 

of social formations 22-4 

and unconscious 47-8, 54 




authorship 17m 

discourse 48-9 

essence of individuals 119 

and Freud 78 

I-Thou relations 143 

interpellation into ideology 

reflection 126-8 

relation to objects 122 

self-consciousness 100-13 

and Subject-Object relations 

theory of 14 
Suret-Canale, Jean 286-7,288 

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre 283 

Hegel and history 239-42 

process of alienation 261 
Terray, Emmanuel 19, 31m 

correct union with practice 

general 36 

and General Theories 1 

historical materialism 195-202 

and ideology xiii-xiv 

Marxist 11-15, 169-82, 229-32 

and practice 207-18 

psychoanalytic regional versus 
general 38-47 

reality of theoretical problems 

regional versus general 63-9 

tasks of politics 168 

Theory of xv-xxii, xliv-xlv 

young Marx's 'epistemological 
breaks' 227-32 
Theory, Theoretical Practice and 

Theoretic Formation' 

(Althusser) xxxiii 

Theoiy and Practice (Althus^, 
xxxiv ' 

revision xlvii-xlviii 
theory as philosophy and 
science xvii 
'Theses on Feuerbach' (Marx) 

124-5, 227, 253-6 
Thorez, Maurice xxi, xxviii, 

xxxiii, 185 
Three Essays on Sexuality (Freud) 

Three Notes on the Theoiy of 
Discourse' (Althusser) 
xlv-xlvii, lii, 37-82 
background to presentation 
Totem and Taboo (Freud) 42 
in France xxvii 

Vernant, Jean-Pierre 1, 18m 

Verret, Michel 155, 156, 225, 299m 

Vilar, Pierre 18m 

Voltaire 296 

Vom Hegel zu Nietzsche (Lowith) 

Voprosy filosofi (journal) 155, 157 

Weitling, Wilhelm 185 

What Is To Be Done? (Lenin) 160, 

167k, 228m 
workers' movements 182 
ideology of 191m 

Young Hegelians 233,242 

Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung 
(journal) 222-3